Ekaterina Dobryakova, PhD, was recently awarded a three-year grant worth $408,000 by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society to study fatigue-influencing factors among patients with multiple sclerosis (MS).
Dr. Dobryakova is a researcher in Traumatic Brain Injury Research at the Kessler Foundation, where she focuses on cognitive issues in MS and brain injury. Her project, titled “Effect of Feedback Presentation on the Fronto-Striatal Network Activity and Fatigue in Individuals with MS,” will be the first to examine the influence of feedback presentation, a factor that might be involved in fatigue. A better understanding of that factors that contribute to this frequent and debilitating MS symptom will help researchers develop more effective treatments.
The distinction between positive and negative feedback takes place in the brain’s fronto-striatal network, mediated by dopamine — a neurotransmitter known to alleviate fatigue in traumatic brain injury, Parkinson’s disease, cancer, and chronic fatigue syndrome. By using feedback presentation, a non-pharmacological intervention, scientists will be able to examine whether brain activity associated with dopamine levels increases, easing the fatigue reported by participants.
“Individuals with MS and healthy participants will undergo a brain scan while performing a learning task with two feedback conditions (monetary and non-monetary feedback) and a no-feedback condition,” Dr. Dobryakova said in a press release. “Training individuals to recognize the onset of fatigue and its impact on task performance will help us develop effective interventions. One possibility is that by visualizing the rewards of positive feedback, individuals with MS can activate the relevant neural pathway in their brains and counter fatigue. Because this type of intervention relies entirely on internal cognitive mechanisms, the unwanted side effects of medications would be avoided.”
The research on cognitive rehabilitation in MS being undertaken at the Kessler Foundation is funded by grants from several organizations, including the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the National MS Society. Under the supervision of lead investigator Dr. John DeLuca, senior vice president for Research and Training, and Dr. Nancy Chiaravalloti, director of Neuropsychology and Neuroscience Research, the Kessler Foundation team has already made notable contributions to the knowledge of cognitive decline in MS. The foundation’s clinical trials focus on areas such as learning, memory, attention, cognitive reserve, emotional processing, cognitive fatigue, and even employment.
This study continues to advance understanding and, potentially, treatment of MS. “Specifically, the results will provide missing evidence on the brain areas involved in cognitive fatigue,” said Dr. Chiaravalloti, “as well as how their functioning is related to cognitive fatigue during task performance. Identifying an endogenous factor that can alleviate cognitive fatigue would be a revolutionary development in MS rehabilitation.”
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