Background: Cognitive dysfunction in multiple sclerosis (MS) may partially stem from inadequate cerebral blood flow. Cerebral blood flow and cognitive function improve with aerobic exercise in healthy adults. The effect of aerobic exercise on cerebrovascular hemodynamics and cognitive performance in persons with MS is unclear. The acute effect of aerobic exercise versus quiet rest on cerebrovascular hemodynamics and cognitive performance in relapsing-remitting MS was examined.

Methods: Sixteen adults with relapsing-remitting MS underwent cerebrovascular hemodynamics and cognitive performance testing before, 2 minutes after, and 30 minutes after aerobic exercise (20-minute treadmill walking, 60% peak oxygen consumption) and a time-matched seated control. Brachial blood pressure was obtained via an oscillometric cuff. Right middle cerebral artery (MCA) blood velocity was measured via transcranial Doppler and used to calculate mean velocity, pulsatility index (PI), and conductance. Carotid artery stiffness was measured via ultrasonography and tonometry. Cognitive performance (accuracy, reaction time) was assessed using a modified flanker task.

Results: Exercise elicited significant increases in mean pressure and carotid artery stiffness and decreases in MCA conductance at 2 minutes after exercise, which subsided by 30 minutes (P < .05). Exercise did not significantly alter MCA PI. Flanker reaction time decreased during posttesting in both conditions (P < .05). There were no condition × time interactions for cognitive performance.

Conclusions: Persons with MS seem resilient to exercise-induced acute changes in MCA PI despite transient carotid stiffening, potentially via reductions in MCA conductance. These data suggest that changes in cognitive performance after acute aerobic exercise are not directly related to transient cerebrovascular responses in persons with MS.

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