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In RRMS, Social Cognition Issues Linked to Damage in One Brain Region

Social cognition impairment occurs in RRMS patients even without cognitive impairment, and is related to damage in a specific brain region, a study shows.

Issues with social cognition can occur in relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS) patients even without the presence of cognitive impairment, and are related to damage in a specific brain region known as the amygdala, a study reports.

The study, “Social cognition deficits and the role of amygdala in relapsing remitting multiple sclerosis patients without cognitive impairment,” was published in the journal Multiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders.

Critical for social interaction, social cognition involves facial emotion recognition, empathy, and Theory of Mind — the ability to distinguish mental states of others and oneself. Evidence suggests that individuals with multiple sclerosis have significant deficits in social cognition.

However, it is unclear if social cognition problems can occur in the absence of cognitive impairment in RRMS patients. In addition, the complex neural networks underlying social cognition have not been examined in multiple sclerosis patients.

In healthy individuals, studies have shown a relationship between components of social cognition, such as the Theory of Mind, and complex neural circuits including but not limited to the amygdala — a roughly almond-shaped mass of gray matter that is involved in the processing of emotions.

Now, a team led by researchers from the University of Verona in Italy have examined whether social cognition is affected in RRMS patients in the absence of cognitive impairment. The team tried to connect social cognition deficits with underlying brain structures, investigating the role of the amygdala in social cognition of RRMS patients using imaging techniques.

They recruited 31 RRMS patients and 38 healthy individuals matched by age, gender, and education (control group). None of the participants had cognitive impairment. All RRMS patients were taking immunomodulatory therapy.

Participants were tested for three components of social cognition: Theory of Mind, facial emotion recognition, and empathy. They also underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, which the researchers analyzed for global and amygdala cortical thickness and volume as well as the number of lesions.

The researchers found that RRMS patients performed significantly worse on the Theory of Mind test, indicating a poorer ability to “read” people’s emotions. Similarly, the patients scored significantly lower than the control group in facial affect recognition, specifically in the recognition of negative emotions, such as anger and fear, as has been shown in other studies on this patient population.

Source: In RRMS, Social Cognition Issues Linked to Damage in One Brain Region

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