New Study Defines Neurological Deficits in Pediatric MS patients

By Christine Vidal

Release Date: April 28, 2009

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- A study by researchers in the University at Buffalo's Pediatric Multiple Sclerosis Center of Excellence has produced the first examination of deficits in pediatric patients with demyelinating disorders compared to healthy children, using a new battery of neuropsychological tests for pediatric multiple sclerosis.

Results showed that children with demyelinating diseases, specifically MS and a less-severe condition known as acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, or ADEM, were weaker in areas of processing speed, memory, reading skills and attention span than children without these conditions.

Demyelinating disease is an autoimmune condition that results in damage to the myelin sheath, the protective covering that surrounds nerves in the brain and spinal cord. Damage to the myelin slows or stops nerve impulses, causing a range of neurological problems, the most common of which is MS.

The study findings were presented today (April 28) during a poster session at the 61st annual meeting of the American Academy of Neurology being held April 25-May 2 in Seattle, Wash.

Joy B. Parrish, UB clinical instructor of neurology, is first author on the study.

Few studies have examined neurocognitive functioning in children with demyelinating disease, said Parrish. "Only one published study has compared pediatric MS patients and controls, and that study did not use the Pediatric MS Center of Excellence Consensus Neuropsychological Battery, which was established by the six Pediatric MS Centers of Excellence across the U.S.

"The data from our healthy controls will give us information on how children who are developing typically perform on the battery of tests. This will allow us to establish standards and aid future research and clinical assessment across our six Pediatric MS Centers of Excellence.

"In addition," said Parrish, "by evaluating and comparing our patients with healthy controls, we are better able to determine subtle weaknesses and areas of deficit."

Parrish's study involved 21 pediatric MS patients and 12 children diagnosed with ADEM. Their performance on memory and thinking skills was compared to that of 37 healthy children.

Results showed that the patients had poorer mental processing speed, verbal memory and cognitive flexibility. Patients with MS also showed deficits in attention span and reading skills, but not poorer overall IQ. Greater deficits typically were seen in patients with MS.

The findings will be used by MS researchers and physicians to determine the neurocognitive status of their young patients and to help direct treatment, said Parrish.

Eluen A. Yeh, M.D., Lisa A. Jackson, Ph.D., Bianca Weinstock-Guttman, M.D., and Ralph H. B. Benedict, Ph.D., all from UB's Jacobs Neurological Institute/Department of Neurology located in Buffalo General Hospital, also contributed to the study. The pediatric MS center is located in Women and Children's Hospital.

The research was supported by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, Children's Guild Foundation of Buffalo and the Jog for the Jake Research Foundation.

The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.