Bilateral thalamic gray matter changes in patients with restless legs syndrome

Neuroimage. 2005 Feb 15;24(4):1242-7. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2004.10.021. Epub 2004 Dec 8.


Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a common neurological disorder of a primary unpleasant sensation with an urge to move the legs occurring at rest. The etiology of idiopathic RLS is unknown and structural cerebral abnormalities have so far not been detected. We studied 51 right-handed patients with an idiopathic restless legs syndrome in two independent samples (Regensburg RLS-group: n = 28, Munich RLS-group: n = 23) and compared them to 51 sex- and age-matched healthy volunteers. High-resolution T1-weighted magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of each subject was obtained and analyzed using voxel-based morphometry (VBM) to detect regionally specific differences in gray matter between patients and controls. Conjunction analysis was used to combine results from both centers. In patients with idiopathic RLS, both study centers observed independently a bilateral gray matter increase in the pulvinar. In the conjunction analysis including all patients and controls from both study centers, a significant gray matter increase in the pulvinar bilaterally (right: x = 16, y = -21, z = 12, Z = 4.57; left: x = -16, y = -24, z = 12, Z = 4.10) was present. This is the first demonstration of structural changes in the brain of patients with idiopathic RLS. These changes in thalamic structures are either involved in the pathogenesis of RLS or may reflect a consequence of chronic increase in afferent input of behaviorally relevant information.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Interpretation, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Reproducibility of Results
  • Restless Legs Syndrome / pathology*
  • Thalamus / pathology*