Spatial navigation in early multiple sclerosis: a neglected cognitive marker of the disease?

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Cognitive deficits are common in early multiple sclerosis (MS), however, spatial navigation changes and their associations with brain pathology remain poorly understood.To characterize the profile of spatial navigation changes in two main navigational strategies, egocentric (self-centred) and allocentric (world-centred), and their associations with demyelinating and neurodegenerative changes in early MS.Participants with early MS after the first clinical event (n = 51) and age-, gender- and education-matched controls (n = 42) underwent spatial navigation testing in a real-space human analogue of the Morris water maze task, comprehensive neuropsychological assessment, and MRI brain scan with voxel-based morphometry and volumetric analyses.The early MS group had lower performance in the egocentric (p = 0.010), allocentric (p = 0.004) and allocentric-delayed (p = 0.038) navigation tasks controlling for age, gender and education. Based on the applied criteria, lower spatial navigation performance was present in 26-29 and 33-41% of the participants with early MS in the egocentric and the allocentric task, respectively. Larger lesion load volume in cortical, subcortical and cerebellar regions (ß ≥ 0.29; p ≤ 0.032) unlike brain atrophy was associated with less accurate allocentric navigation performance.Lower spatial navigation performance is present in up to 41% of the participants with early MS. Demyelinating lesions in early MS may disrupt neural network forming the basis of allocentric navigation.

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