Understanding Multiple Sclerosis Memory Loss

Photo of Professor Joshua Sandry operating an MRI scanner.
Professor Joshua Sandry at the Kessler Foundation

Up to 65 percent of people who suffer from multiple sclerosis (MS) experience some degree of long-term memory loss. Montclair State Psychology Professor Joshua Sandry hopes his exploration of the cognitive and neural processes associated with long-term memory impairment in MS will eventually contribute to new memory rehabilitation techniques and treatments for patients with the disease.

Sandry is the principal investigator on a research project funded by the Consortium of MS Centers through the Kessler Foundation, where he is a visiting scientist. Together with co-investigator and Kessler Foundation research scientist Ekaterina Dobryakova, he will study how disease-related damage to the hippocampus affects working memory and long-term memory impairment in MS. "The main purpose of this grant is to increase our understanding of the relationship between MS disease pathology and memory impairment," he says.

"We know from past research that memory impairment in MS is related to hippocampal atrophy," Sandry says. "It is less clear how working memory may fit into the relationship between memory impairment and hippocampal atrophy."

An understanding of the relationship between working memory and long-term memory in MS patients is critical to Sandry's study. While working memory helps integrate new information into long-term memory, it is also involved in the retrieval of existing memories that have been stored in long-term memory.

"This understanding could potentially lead to techniques to help patients with MS with long-term memory impairment improve their quality of life."
–Joshua Sandry

"It's extremely important to ground our clinical research in past findings of basic research in healthy individuals, in order to understand what might be different behaviorally and neurologically as a consequence of the disease," he explains. According to Sandry, images from functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) will give a picture of the relationship between the brain and memory impairment by measuring task-related brain activation in the hippocampus and other brain regions. "We'll look at how these brain regions may be interconnected and how they may differ between MS patients with and without memory impairment."

Montclair State students will assist in collecting, processing and analyzing data from a 3T MRI scanner at the Rocco Ortenzio Neuroimaging Center at the Kessler Foundation.

"This research is a first step that we hope may lead to new research investigating novel memory rehabilitation treatments that would target the specific cognitive and neural mechanisms at the root of long-term memory problems in MS patients," Sandry says. "This understanding could potentially lead to techniques to help patients with MS with long-term memory impairment improve their quality of life and everyday functioning."