Changes in thalamus connectivity in mild cognitive impairment: evidence from resting state fMRI

Zhiqun Wang, Xiuqin Jia, Peipeng Liang, Zhigang Qi, Yanhui Yang, Weidong Zhou, Kuncheng Li
European Journal of Radiology 2012, 81 (2): 277-85

PURPOSE: The subcortical region such as thalamus was believed to have close relationship with many cerebral cortexes which made it especially interesting in the study of functional connectivity. Here, we used resting state functional MRI (fMRI) to examine changes in thalamus connectivity in mild cognitive impairment (MCI), which presented a neuro-disconnection syndrome.

MATERIALS AND METHODS: Data from 14 patients and 14 healthy age-matched controls were analyzed. Thalamus connectivity was investigated by examination of the correlation between low frequency fMRI signal fluctuations in the thalamus and those in all other brain regions.

RESULTS: We found that functional connectivity between the left thalamus and a set of regions was decreased in MCI; these regions are: bilateral cuneus, middle occipital gyrus (MOG), superior frontal gyrus (SFG), medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC), precuneus, inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) and precentral gyrus (PreCG). There are also some regions showed reduced connectivity to right thalamus; these regions are bilateral cuneus, MOG, fusiform gyrus (FG), MPFC, paracentral lobe (PCL), precuneus, superior parietal lobe (SPL) and IFG. We also found increased functional connectivity between the left thalamus and the right thalamus in MCI.

CONCLUSION: The decreased connectivity between the thalamus and the other brain regions might indicate reduced integrity of thalamus-related cortical networks in MCI. Furthermore, the increased connectivity between the left and right thalamus suggest compensation for the loss of cognitive function. Briefly, impairment and compensation of thalamus connectivity coexist in the MCI patients.

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