Ekaterina Dobryakova, PhD, was awarded a 3-year $408,000 grant by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society to study the factors influencing fatigue in the multiple sclerosis (MS) population. Developing effective treatments for fatigue depends on identifying factors that contribute to this common and debilitating symptom. Dobryakova is a research scientist in traumatic brain injury research at Kessler Foundation, where she focuses on cognitive issues in MS and brain injury. Her study is titled “Effect of Feedback Presentation on the Fronto-Striatal Network Activity and Fatigue in Individuals with MS.”

This study will examine the influence of feedback presentation, a factor that may be involved in fatigue. Differentiating positive and negative feedback occurs in the brain’s fronto-striatal network, and is mediated by dopamine, a neurotransmitter that has been shown to alleviate fatigue in traumatic brain injury, cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and chronic fatigue syndrome. Using feedback presentation—a non-pharmacological intervention—researchers will see whether brain activity associated with dopamine levels rises and the fatigue experienced by individuals with MS is alleviated.

“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,” Dobryakova describes in a 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.”

This novel study will have an impact in the scientific community, according to Nancy Chiaravalloti, PhD, director of Neuropsychology, Neuroscience, and Traumatic Brain Injury Research at Kessler Foundation. “Specifically, the results will provide missing evidence on the brain areas involved in cognitive fatigue,” she notes, “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.”