An impairment of central somatosensory processing is assumed in restless legs syndrome (RLS). Although functional neuroimaging in RLS gave evidence to the presence of widespread functional changes in various brain areas, structural changes at the cortical level were not reported to be RLS-associated to date. Here, an analysis of high-resolution three-dimensional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was performed in 63 patients with idiopathic RLS by use of optimized voxel-based morphometry, in order to investigate if cortical areas might be altered in volume at group level according to the phenomenology of RLS. The comparison of the RLS patients versus controls yielded significant regional decreases of gray matter volume at corrected P < 0.05 in the bihemispheric primary somatosensory cortex, which additionally extended into left-sided primary motor areas. All clusters correlated both with the severity of RLS symptoms and with disease duration. These results, for the first time, give in vivo evidence to structural neocortical gray matter alterations in RLS patients. The alterations in the sensorimotor cortices might add to the pathophysiological concepts of idiopathic RLS.
(c) 2007 Movement Disorder Society.