Functional connectivity and topology in patients with restless legs syndrome: a case-control resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging study
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Background and purpose: Functional connectivity studies revealed alterations within thalamic, salience, and default mode networks in restless legs syndrome patients.
Methods: Eighty-two patients with restless legs syndrome (untreated, n = 30; on dopaminergic medication, n = 42; on alpha-2-delta ligands as mono- or polytherapy combined with dopaminergic medication, n = 10), and 82 individually age- and gender-matched healthy controls were studied with resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging. Connectivity of 12 resting-state networks was investigated with independent component analysis, and network topology was studied with graph methods among 410 brain regions.
Results: Patients with restless legs syndrome showed significantly higher connectivity within salience (p = 0.029), executive (p = 0.001), and cerebellar (p = 0.041) networks, as well as significantly lower (p < 0.05) cerebello-frontal communication compared to controls. In addition, they had a significantly higher (p < 0.05) clustering coefficient and local efficiency in motor and frontal regions; lower clustering coefficient in the central sulcus; and lower local efficiency in the central opercular cortex, temporal, parieto-occipital, cuneus, and occipital regions compared to controls. Untreated patients had significantly lower (p < 0.05) cerebello-parietal communication compared to healthy controls. Connectivity between the thalamus and frontal regions was significantly increased (p < 0.05) in patients on dopaminergic medication compared to untreated patients and controls.
Conclusions: Networks with higher intranetwork connectivity (i.e., salience, executive, cerebellar) and lower cerebello-frontal connectivity in the restless legs syndrome patients, as well as lower cerebello-parietal connectivity in untreated patients, correspond to regions associated with attention, response inhibitory control, and processing of sensory information. Intact cerebello-parietal communication and increased thalamic connectivity to the prefrontal regions in patients on dopaminergic medication suggests a treatment effect on thalamus.