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White matter volume loss drives cortical reshaping after thalamic infarcts.

Neuroimage Clin. 2022 Feb 4;33:102953. doi: 10.1016/j.nicl.2022.102953. Epub ahead of print. PMID: 35139478.

Authors/Editors: Conrad J, Habs M, Ruehl RM, Bögle R, Ertl M, Kirsch V, Eren OE, Becker-Bense S, Stephan T, Wollenweber FA, Duering M, Zu Eulenburg P, Dieterich M.
Publication Date: 2022

Abstract

Objective

The integration of somatosensory, ocular motor and vestibular signals is necessary for self-location in space and goal-directed action. We aimed to detect remote changes in the cerebral cortex after thalamic infarcts to reveal the thalamo-cortical connections necessary for multisensory processing and ocular motor control.

Methods

Thirteen patients with unilateral ischemic thalamic infarcts presenting with vestibular, somatosensory, and ocular motor symptoms were examined longitudinally in the acute phase and after six months. Voxel- and surface-based morphometry were used to detect changes in vestibular and multisensory cortical areas and known hubs of central ocular motor processing. The results were compared with functional connectivity data in 50 healthy volunteers.

Results

Patients with paramedian infarcts showed impaired saccades and vestibular perception, i.e., tilts of the subjective visual vertical (SVV). The most common complaint in these patients was double vision or vertigo / dizziness. Posterolateral thalamic infarcts led to tilts of the SVV and somatosensory deficits without vertigo. Tilts of the SVV were higher in paramedian compared to posterolateral infarcts (median 11.2° vs 3.8°). Vestibular and ocular motor symptoms recovered within six months. Somatosensory deficits persisted. Structural longitudinal imaging showed significant volume reduction in subcortical structures connected to the infarcted thalamic nuclei (vestibular nuclei region, dentate nucleus region, trigeminal root entry zone, medial lemniscus, superior colliculi). Volume loss was evident in connections to the frontal, parietal and cingulate lobes. Changes were larger in the ipsilesional hemisphere but were also detected in homotopical regions contralesionally. The white matter volume reduction led to deformation of the cortical projection zones of the infarcted nuclei.

Conclusions

White matter volume loss after thalamic infarcts reflects sensory input from the brainstem as well the cortical projections of the main affected nuclei for sensory and ocular motor processing. Changes in the cortical geometry seem not to reflect gray matter atrophy but rather reshaping of the cortical surface due to the underlying white matter atrophy.

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