Kessler researchers explore social cognitive deficits in progressive multiple sclerosis

Study by MS research team finds evidence for differential effects of progressive MS on cognitive and affective Theory of Mind

East Hanover, NJ. June 25, 2019. A recent study by Kessler Foundation researchers provided new findings about the nature of social cognitive deficits in the population with progressive multiple sclerosis (MS). The article, "Cognitive but Not Affective Theory of Mind Deficits in Progressive MS", (doi: 10.1017/S1355617719000584) was epublished on June 10, 2019 by the Journal of the International Neuropsychological Society.

The authors are Katie Lancaster, PhD, Eric M. Stone, and Helen Genova, PhD, of Kessler Foundation. Link to abstract:

The researchers conducted tests of social cognition in two groups: 15 individuals with progressive MS and 15 healthy controls. They used Virtual Assessment of Mentalising Ability (VAMA) to measure Theory of Mind (ToM) in both groups. This was the first application of VAMA for research in the subtype of progressive MS. Results showed poorer performance on VAMA in the MS group and identified a specific deficit in the cognitive ToM subtest, which measures how well individuals can reason about the thoughts and intentions of others. In contrast, they found no differences between the groups on the affective ToM subtest, which measures how well individuals can reason about the emotions of others.

Deficits in social cognition that impair quality of life are associated with all types of MS, but appear to be more pronounced in progressive MS. Developing effective interventions depends upon expanding our knowledge of social cognitive deficits in progressive MS. Much of the research, however, has been conducted in relapsing remitting MS.

"This study is an important first step toward a better understanding of cognitive dysfunction in individuals with progressive MS," said Dr. Genova, the Foundation's assistant director of the Center for Neuropsychology and Neuroscience Research. "By examining both the cognitive and affective components of Theory of Mind, we found evidence for differential effects of progressive MS, similar to the effects reported for relapsing remitting MS," she affirmed, "including the apparent sparing of affective ability. Our findings indicate that VAMA will be an important tool for developing interventions that help individuals maintain the skills needed to function in everyday life."

Dr. Lancaster is the Hearst Postdoctoral Fellow in the Center for Traumatic Brain Injury Research at Kessler Foundation.

This research was supported by the Consortium of Multiple Sclerosis Centers.

About MS Research at Kessler Foundation

Kessler Foundation's cognitive rehabilitation research in MS is funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute on Disability, Independent Living, and Rehabilitation Research, National MS Society, Consortium of Multiple Sclerosis Centers, the Patterson Trust, Biogen Idec, Hearst Foundations, the International Progressive MS Alliance, and Kessler Foundation. Under the leadership of John DeLuca, PhD, senior VP for Research & Training, and Nancy Chiaravalloti, PhD, director of the Centers for Neuropsychology, Neuroscience and Traumatic Brain Injury Research, scientists have made important contributions to the knowledge of cognitive decline in MS and developed new treatments. Clinical studies span new learning, memory, executive function, attention and processing speed, cognitive reserve, emotional processing, employment and cognitive fatigue. Research tools include innovative applications of neuroimaging, mobile devices, eye-tracking, EEG, and virtual reality. Neuroimaging studies are conducted at the research-dedicated Rocco Ortenzio Neuroimaging Center at Kessler Foundation. Kessler researchers and clinicians have faculty appointments in the department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School.

About Kessler Foundation

Kessler Foundation, a major nonprofit organization in the field of disability, is a global leader in rehabilitation research that seeks to improve cognition, mobility and long-term outcomes, including employment, for people with neurological disabilities caused by diseases and injuries of the brain and spinal cord. Kessler Foundation leads the nation in funding innovative programs that expand opportunities for employment for people with disabilities.

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