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Kessler Foundation researchers publish first study of brain activation in MS using fNIRS

First MS study to use functional near infrared spectroscopy to examine brain activation during working memory task

Kessler Foundation


IMAGE: Dr. Wylie is associate director of Neuroscience Research and the Neuroimaging Center at Kessler Foundation. view more

Credit: Kessler Foundation

West Orange, NJ. August 27, 2014. Using functional near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), Kessler Foundation researchers have shown differential brain activation patterns between people with multiple sclerosis (MS) and healthy controls. This is the first MS study in which brain activation was studied using fNIRS while participants performed a cognitive task. The article, "Neuroimaging and cognition using functional near infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) in multiple sclerosis," was published online on June 11 by Brain Imaging and Behavior. Authors are Jelena Stojanovic-Radic, PhD, Glenn Wylie, DPhil, Gerald Voelbel, PhD, Nancy Chiaravalloti, PhD, and John DeLuca, PhD.

Researchers compared 13 individuals with MS with 12 controls for their performance on a working memory task with four levels of difficulty. Most such studies have employed functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI); fNIRS has been used infrequently in clinical populations, and has not been applied previously to neuroimaging research in MS. Studies comparing fMRI findings with those of fNIRS, however, show broad agreement in terms of activation patterns.

Results showed differences in activation between the groups that were dependent on task load. The MS group had an increase in activation at low task difficulty and a decrease in activation at high task difficulty. Conversely, in the control group, activation decreased with low task difficulty and increased with high task difficulty. Performance accuracy was lower in the MS group for low task load; there were no differences between the groups at the higher task loads.

"The data we obtained via fNIRS are consistent with fMRI data for clinical populations. We demonstrated that fNIRS is capable of detecting neuronal activation with a reasonable degree of detail," noted Glenn Wylie, DPhil, associate director of Neuroscience Research and the Neuroimaging Center at Kessler Foundation. "We attribute the differences in brain activation patterns to the effort expended during the working memory task rather than to differences in speed of processing," he added. "Because fNIRS is more portable and easier to use that fMRI, it may offer advantages in monitoring cognitive interventions that require frequent scans."

In addition to working memory, future research in clinical populations should focus on processing speed and episodic memory, cognitive functions that are also affected in MS.


Supported by National MS Society (MB0024 (JSR); NIH (iF32NS055509) (GV); Kessler Foundation

About MS Research at Kessler Foundation

Kessler Foundation's cognitive rehabilitation research in MS is funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health, National MS Society, NJ Commission of Brain Injury Research, Consortium of MS Centers, Biogen Idec, Hearst Foundation, and Kessler Foundation. Under the leadership of John DeLuca, PhD, senior VP for Research & Training, and Nancy Chiaravalloti, PhD, director of Neuropsychology & Neuroscience Research, scientists have made important contributions to the knowledge of cognitive decline in MS. Clinical studies span new learning, memory, executive function, attention and processing speed, emotional processing, employment and cognitive fatigue. Research tools include innovative applications of neuroimaging, iPADs, and virtual reality. Among recent findings are the benefits of cognitive reserve and aerobic exercise; correlation between cognitive performance and outdoor temperatures; efficacy of short-term cognitive rehabilitation using modified story technique; factors related to risk for unemployment, and the correlation between memory improvement and cerebral activation on fMRI. Foundation research scientists have faculty appointments at Rutgers New Jersey Medical School. The opening of the Neuroimaging Center at Kessler Foundation in 2013 has greatly expanded the Foundation's capability for neuroscience research in MS and other neurological conditions. Foundation scientists have faculty appointments 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. For more information, visit

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