Abnormal thalamic functional connectivity correlates with cardiorespiratory fitness and physical activity in progressive multiple sclerosis
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BACKGROUND: Altered thalamic volumes and resting state (RS) functional connectivity (FC) might be associated with physical activity (PA) and cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) in people with progressive multiple sclerosis (PMS). OBJECTIVES: To assess thalamic structural and functional alterations and investigate their correlations with PA/CRF levels in people with PMS. METHODS: Seven-day accelerometry and cardiopulmonary exercise testing were used to assess PA/CRF levels in 91 persons with PMS. They underwent 3.0 T structural and RS fMRI acquisition with 37 age/sex-matched healthy controls (HC). Between-group comparisons of MRI measures and their correlations with PA/CRF variables were assessed. RESULTS: PMS people had lower volumes compared to HC (all p < 0.001). At corrected threshold, PMS showed decreased intra- and inter-thalamic RS FC, and increased RS FC between the thalamus and the hippocampus, bilaterally. At uncorrected threshold, decreased thalamic RS FC with caudate nucleus, cerebellum and anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), as well as increased thalamic RS FC with occipital regions, were also detected. Lower CRF, measured as peak oxygen consumption (VO2peak), correlated with lower white matter volume (r = 0.31, p = 0.03). Moreover, lower levels of light PA correlated with increased thalamic RS FC with the right hippocampus (r = - 0.3, p = 0.05). DISCUSSION: People with PMS showed widespread brain atrophy, as well as pronounced intra-thalamic and thalamo-hippocampal RS FC abnormalities. White matter atrophy correlated with CRF, while increased thalamo-hippocampal RS FC was associated to worse PA levels. Thalamic RS FC might be used to monitor physical impairment and efficacy of rehabilitative and disease-modifying treatments in future studies.
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