Evidence from an event-related potential study of patients with clinically isolated Myelopathy
Auditory and Visual Event-Related Potentials were recorded during a short-term memory task in 24 patients who had recently presented with symptomatically and clinically isolated Spinal Cord syndromes suspected to be due to Multiple Sclerosis, and in 24 matched control subjects.
Event-Related Potentials (ERPs) were recorded during two sequential components of the Working Memory task, first the temporary active memorizing of sets of digits and secondly, their subsequent manipulation, namely digit-probe recognition and matching.
The patients' reaction times were slower and showed larger increments than those of the control subjects as the number of items to be memorized was increased.
The patients' ERPs during both memorizing and probe matching/recognition phases differed significantly from control subjects for both Auditory and Visual presentations.
The more marked changes were seen in a subgroup of eight patients who had the lowest levels of performance on a battery of general tests of Memory and who also made significantly more errors in the Working Memory task as the Memory load increased.
In this subgroup, the abnormalities of the ERPs during recognition and matching tests occurred in the component of the response that has been shown to be sensitive to Memory loading in healthy control subjects.
This study provides objective evidence of SubClinical Working Memory Dysfunction in patients at an early stage of DeMyelinating disease, i.e. when they first present with clinically isolated Spinal Cord lesions and before they have developed symptoms of Cognitive or Memory Dysfunction.
The defect at this early stage is either restricted to processes involved in the formation of a Memory Trace or, more probably, involves both Trace Formation and the mechanisms that underly recognition ('Retrieval') and matching of Memory Traces in Working Memory.