Background: Depression is frequently associated with multiple sclerosis (MS). However, the biological background underlying such association is poorly understood. Objective: Investigating the functional connections of neurotransmitter-related brainstem nuclei, along with their relationship with white matter (WM) microstructure, in MS patients with depressive symptomatology (MS-D) and without depressive symptomatology (MS-nD). Methods: Combined resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and diffusion-weighted MRI (dMRI) study on 50 MS patients, including 19 MS-D and 31 MS-nD patients, along with 37 healthy controls (HC). Main analyses performed are (1) comparison between groups of raphe nuclei (RN)-related functional connectivity (FC); (2) correlation between RN-related FC and whole brain dMRI-derived fractional anisotropy (FA) map; and (3) comparison between groups of FA in the RN-related WM area. Results: (1) RN-related FC was reduced in MS-D when compared to MS-nD and HC; (2) RN-related FC positively correlated with FA in a WM cluster mainly encompassing thalamic/basal ganglia regions, including the fornix; and (3) FA in such WM area was reduced in MS-D. Conclusion: Depressive symptomatology in MS is specifically associated to a functional disconnection of neurotransmitter-related nuclei, which in turn may be traced to a distinct spatial pattern of WM alterations mainly involving the limbic network.
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