Kessler Foundation Study of Cognitive Fatigue Across Different Tasks and Populations Provides New Insights

Uncovering the neural correlates of cognitive fatigue: a comparative analysis across multiple sclerosis, traumatic brain injury, and control populations

Venn diagram illustrating circles indicating cognitive fatigue across three populations.
For the first time, scientists examined patterns of

​​​​​​brain activation and behavior for cognitive fatigue

across three different populations - multiple

sclerosis, traumatic brain injury, and controls -

inducing fatigue with tasks of working memory and

processing speed. Credit: Created with DALL-E

image creator, ©2023

Kessler Foundation


East Hanover, NJ – December 21, 2023 – In an innovative study, researchers at Kessler Foundation have conducted the first systematic investigation of the effects of cognitive fatigue by using two different tasks across three distinct populations: multiple sclerosis, traumatic brain injury, and controls. The study, Evaluating the effects of brain injury, disease, and tasks on cognitive fatigue,” (doi: 10.1038/s41598-023-46918-y) was published on November 17, 2023, in Scientific Reports. The authors are Glenn R. Wylie, DPhil, Helen M. Genova, PhD, Bing Yao, PhD, Nancy Chiaravalloti, PhD, Cristina A.F. Roman, PhD, Brian M. Sandroff, PhD, and John DeLuca, PhD.

​This study compared a group with multiple sclerosis (MS) (n=31) and a group with traumatic brain injury (TBI) (n=31) to a control group (n=30) to assess the relationships among cognitive fatigue, behavioral performance, and brain activation.

Two distinct tasks – a working memory task and a processing speed task – were used to induce cognitive fatigue while functional neuroimaging data were collected. Findings revealed that while the two clinical groups reported more cognitive fatigue than the control group, the accrual of cognitive fatigue was consistent across all participants, and cognitive fatigue ratings remained stable across tasks. This suggests that the experience of cognitive fatigue is not task-specific but rather a consistent state triggered by cognitive exertion.​

​Moreover, the study uncovered that an increase in cognitive fatigue correlated with longer response times in tasks across all groups. Neuroimaging data showed that activation in the caudate nucleus and thalamus was consistently related to cognitive fatigue levels across all three groups, underscoring these brain regions as central to the experience of cognitive fatigue. Interestingly, variations in activation patterns were observed more dorsally in the caudate nucleus, indicating that this region's sensitivity may be linked to the type of brain damage sustained.

"The similarities and differences of our findings across populations, regardless of the task used to induce fatigue, provides new insights into cognitive fatigue resulting from brain injury and disease,” said Dr. Wylie, director of the Rocco Ortenzio Neuroimaging Center. “Demonstrating that cognitive fatigue is not task-dependent provides the direction needed to develop effective strategies for managing debilitating cognitive fatigue that severely impacts individuals' daily functioning and quality of life.

Funding: National MS Society (RG 4232A1), New Jersey Commission for Brain Injury Research (10.005.BIR1), and Kessler Foundation.​

About Kessler Foundation

Kessler Foundation, a major nonprofit organization in the field of disability, is a global leader in rehabilitation research. Our scientists seek to improve cognition, mobility, and long-term outcomes, including employment, for adults and children with neurological and developmental disabilities of the brain and spinal cord including traumatic brain injury, spinal cord injury, stroke, multiple sclerosis, and autism. Kessler Foundation also leads the nation in funding innovative programs that expand opportunities for employment for people with disabilities. We help people regain independence to lead full and productive lives.

For more information, contact:
Deb Hauss, [email protected]
Carolann Murphy, [email protected]

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