Science University Research Symposium (SURS)


Effect of Chemotherapy on Visuospatial N-back Task Performance: an fMRI Study in Breast Cancer Patients

Publication Date



Sciences and Mathematics, College of


Psychological Science, Department of

SURS Faculty Advisor

Carole Scherling

Presentation Type

Metadata Only


Chemotherapy-related cognitive impairments (CRCIs) are commonly self-reported among cancer patients, including breast cancer (BC) patients, after chemotherapy treatments. Reported deficits include challenges in working memory and visuospatial abilities (Deprez, 2011). While the exact mechanisms are not fully understood, CRCIs may be a consequence of increased neurotoxicity, blood brain barrier disruption, white matter abnormalities, and decreased hippocampal neurogenesis (Mounier, 2020). The current study recruited twenty-three BC female patients through the Ottawa Hospital Regional Cancer Centre, and individually matched each to healthy non-cancer controls on sex, age, education and menopausal status. Participants completed a series of structural and functional MRI assessments, including a high anatomical T1 scan and a T2* scan while completing a visuospatial n-back task. These assessments were completed at baseline (t1) and immediately after completion of chemotherapy treatment (t2; or matched in time for controls). In addition to imaging outcomes, behavioral markers of n-back task performance were also extracted, including error rates and reaction times. We hypothesize that there will be no functional and behavioral differences between groups at t1. However, we expect patients to show higher activity in the inferior frontal gyrus, insula, thalamus, and midbrain during the functional task compared to controls at t2. Meanwhile we expect similar accuracy on the task, but slower reaction times in the post-chemotherapy BC patients compared to controls. Last, we hypothesize that only BC patients (not controls) will show changes in neural activation and behavioral patterns from t1 to t2 on the visuospatial n-back task. While the data is currently being processed, we expect our results to clarify the impact of chemotherapy treatments on visuospatial ability and associated brain activation patterns in breast cancer patients.

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