Disrupted functional connectivity of the anterior cingulate cortex in cirrhotic patients without overt hepatic encephalopathy: a resting state fMRI study

Long Jiang Zhang, Rongfeng Qi, Jianhui Zhong, Ling Ni, Gang Zheng, Jian Xu, Guang Ming Lu
PloS One 2013, 8 (1): e53206

BACKGROUND: To evaluate the changes of functional connectivity of the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) in patients with cirrhosis without overt hepatic encephalopathy (HE) using resting state functional MRI.

METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: Participants included 67 cirrhotic patients (27 minimal hepatic encephalopathy (MHE) and 40 cirrhotic patients without MHE (non-HE)), and 40 age- and gender- matched healthy controls. rsfMRI were performed on 3 Telsa scanners. The pregenual ACC resting-state networks (RSNs) were characterized by using a standard seed-based whole-brain correlation method and compared between cirrhotic patients and healthy controls. Pearson correlation analysis was performed between the ACC RSNs and venous blood ammonia levels, neuropsychological tests (number connection test type A [NCT-A] and digit symbol test [DST]) scores in cirrhotic patients. All thresholds were set at P<0.05, with false discovery rate corrected. Compared with controls, non-HE and MHE patients showed significantly decreased functional connectivity in the bilateral ACC, bilateral middle frontal cortex (MFC), bilateral middle cingulate cortex (MCC), bilateral superior temporal gyri (STG)/middle temporal gyri (MTG), bilateral thalami, bilateral putamen and bilateral insula, and increased functional connectivity of bilateral precuneus and left temporo-occipital lobe and bilateral lingual gyri. Compared with non-HE patients, MHE showed the decreased functional connectivity of right MCC, bilateral STG/MTG and right putamen. This indicates decreased ACC functional connectivity predominated with the increasing severity of HE. NCT-A scores negatively correlated with ACC functional connectivity in the bilateral MCC, right temporal lobe, and DST scores positively correlated with functional connectivity in the bilateral ACC and the right putamen. No correlation was found between venous blood ammonia levels and functional connectivity in ACC in cirrhotic patients.

CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE: Disrupted functional connectivity in ACC was found in cirrhotic patients which further deteriorated with the increasing severity of HE and correlated cognitive dysfunction in cirrhotic patients.

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