Relapsing–remitting and secondary-progressive multiple sclerosis patients differ in decoding others' emotions by their eyes

Ornella Argento, Barbara Spanò, Laura Serra, Chiara Concetta Incerti, Marco Bozzali, Carlo Caltagirone, Ada Francia, Mariangela Fratino, Ugo Nocentini, Chiara Piacentini, Maria Esmeralda Quartuccio, Valerio Pisani

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background and purpose: Difficulties in emotion processing and social cognition identified in multiple sclerosis (MS) patients have a potential impact on their adaptation to the social environment. We aimed to explore the neural correlates of emotion recognition in MS and possible differences between relapsing–remitting MS (RRMS) and secondary progressive MS (SPMS) patients by the Reading the Mind in the Eyes test (RMEt). Methods: A total of 43 MS patients (27 RRMS, 16 SPMS) and 25 matched healthy controls (HC) underwent clinical assessments, RMEt, and a high-resolution T1-weighted 3-T magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan. The number of correct answers on the RMEt was compared between groups. T1-weighted volumes were processed according to an optimized voxel-based morphometry (VBM) protocol to obtain gray matter (GM) maps. Voxelwise analyses were run to assess potential associations between RMEt performance and regional GM volumes. Results: Taken altogether, MS patients reported significantly lower performance on the RMEt compared to HC. When dividing the patients into those with RRMS and those with SPMS, only the latter group was found to perform significantly worse than HC on the RMEt. VBM analysis revealed significant association between RMEt scores and GM volumes in several cortical (temporoparieto-occipital cortex) and subcortical (hippocampus, parahippocampus, and basal ganglia) brain regions, and in the cerebellum in SPMS patients only. Conclusions: Results suggest that, in addition to other clinical differences between RRMS and SPMS, the ability to recognize others' emotional states may be affected in SPMS more significantly than RRMS patients. This is supported by both behavioral and MRI data.

Original languageEnglish
JournalEuropean Journal of Neurology
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2021


  • cerebellum
  • emotional status
  • multiple sclerosis
  • reading the mind in the eyes
  • social cognition
  • theory of mind

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology


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