Two groups of SLE patients were recruited; stable/low disease activity (SLE-S, n = 36) and active disease (SLE-F, n = 26). The SLE-F group were studied during a flare; with a second visit when disease activity had reduced. In addition to demographic, clinical and psychiatric data, CD was measured using a computerised battery of tests (CANTAB®). fMRI was used to examine neuronal responses to working memory and emotional processing tasks.
No differences between the groups/visits were found using the CANTAB® battery. The fMRI results showed that the SLE-F group had a less attenuated response in the medial prefrontal cortex (a default mode network-DMN region) compared with the SLE-S group during the working memory task (p = 0.012). Exploratory correlations within the SLE-F group showed associations between neuronal responses and depression, cognitive fatigue, disease activity measures and IL-6.
Functional brain processes but not cognitive behavioural measures were affected by disease activity. Flaring SLE patients were less able to suppress DMN regions during a working memory task. This could reflect emotional interference during cognitive tasks and may cause cognitive fatigue. A number of factors are associated with brain function in flaring patients, which has potential implications for holistic treatments.
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