BACKGROUND: MR Imaging has shown atrophy in brainstem regions that were linked to autonomic dysfunction in epilepsy patients. The brainstem projects to and modulates the activation state of several wide-spread cortical/subcortical regions. The goal was to investigate 1. Impact of brainstem atrophy on gray matter connectivity of cortical/subcortical structures and autonomic control. 2. Impact on the modulation of cortical/subcortical functional connectivity.
METHODS: 11 controls and 18 patients with non-lesional focal epilepsy (FE) underwent heart rate variability (HRV) measurements and a 3 T MRI (T1 in all subjects, task-free fMRI in 7 controls/ 12 FE). The brainstem was extracted, and atrophy assessed using deformation-based-morphometry. The age-corrected z-scores of the mean Jacobian determinants were extracted from 71 5x5x5 mm grids placed in brainstem regions associated with autonomic function. Cortical and non-brainstem subcortical gray matter atrophy was assessed with voxel-based-morphometry and mean age corrected z-scores of the modulated gray matter volumes extracted from 380 cortical/subcortical rois. The profile similarity index was used to characterize the impact of brainstem atrophy on gray matter connectivity. The fMRI was preprocessed in SPM12/Conn17 and the BOLD signal extracted from 398 ROIs (16 brainstem). A dynamic task-free analysis approach was used to identify activation states. Connectivity HRV relationship were assessed with Spearman rank correlations.
RESULTS: HRV was negatively correlated with reduced brainstem right hippocampus/parahippocampus gray matter connectivity in controls (p < .05, FDR) and reduced brainstem to right parietal cortex, lingual gyrus, left hippocampus/amygdala, parahippocampus, temporal pole, and bilateral anterior thalamus connectivity in FE (p < .05, FDR). Dynamic task-free fMRI analysis identified 22 states. The strength of the functional brainstem/cortical connectivity of state 15 was negatively associated with HRV (r = -0.5, p = .03) and positively with decreased brainstem-cortical (0.49, p = .03) gray matter connectivity.
CONCLUSION: The findings of this small pilot study suggest that impaired brainstem-cortex gray matter connectivity in FE negatively affects the brainstem's ability to control cortical activation.
Mueller, Susanne G.; Bateman, Lisa M.; Nei, Maromi; Goldman, Alica M.; and Laxer, Kenneth D., "Brainstem atrophy in focal epilepsy destabilizes brainstem-brain interactions: Preliminary findings." (2019). Department of Neurology Faculty Papers. Paper 190.
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