Cholinergic agonism alters cognitive processing and enhances brain functional connectivity in patients with multiple sclerosis.
Cader S., Palace J., Matthews PM.
The aim of this study is to define mechanisms underlying the pharmacological effects of brain cholinesterase inhibition on cognitive function in patients with multiple sclerosis (MS). Both a Stroop task and an N-back task were used to probe the changes in brain activity using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in a single (investigator)-blind, crossover treatment design studying 15 patients with multiple sclerosis (12 relapsing remitting, 3 secondary progressive) taking rivastigmine (4.5 mg po bid) and domperidone (10 mg po qd) or domperidone alone. Administration of rivastigmine increased Stroop functional magnetic resonance imaging activation in the right inferior frontal gyrus for the Stroop task (P < 0.05, corrected). Incremental functional magnetic resonance imaging activation with progressively greater N-back task difficulty was enhanced by rivastigmine in prefrontal and parietal cortical regions (P < 0.01, ANOVA). Functional connectivity analysis of the N-back functional magnetic resonance imaging data based on correlations between pair-wise interregional activations showed increased connectivity between left to right prefrontal, anterior cingulate to left prefrontal and right parietal to right prefrontal regions with rivastigmine (P < 0.05, corrected). Although there were no statistically significant changes in the neuropsychological task performance with rivastigmine in this small study, 11 of 15 patients showed improvements, whereas only 4 of 15 patients showed decline in performance (P = 0.07). With regard to the previous data, these findings suggest different patterns of brain response to lower dose acute and higher dose chronic administration of rivastigmine in patients with multiple sclerosis. They showed that rivastigmine enhances the prefrontal function and alters the functional connectivity associated with cognition. We interpret this as evidence for greater efficiency of brain information transfer that should increase confidence in a potentially beneficial clinical therapeutic effect.