Objective: To investigate changes in brain activation patterns detected by functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI), and the relationship between FMRI activation patterns and results of formal neuropsychological testing, in patients with childhood-onset systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE).
Methods: Ten patients with childhood-onset SLE underwent formal neuropsychological testing and FMRI using 3 paradigms: a continuous performance task (CPT) to evaluate attention, an N-Back task to assess working memory, and verb generation to evaluate language processing. Composite Z maps were generated to summarize the brain activation patterns for each FMRI paradigm in patients with childhood-onset SLE and to compare these patterns with those observed in healthy controls. Between-group comparison Z maps showing differences in activation between childhood-onset SLE patients and controls were generated, using a significance level of P < 0.05 in a general linear model.
Results: Compared with the control group, the childhood-onset SLE group showed statistically significant increased activation of brain areas involved in the CPT, N-Back, and verb generation tasks. In contrast, in the absence of active stimulus, e.g., during times of the paradigm control tasks, childhood-onset SLE patients consistently undersuppressed activity in the expected brain areas. Activation in selected cortical areas was found to correlate negatively with results of a subset of individual neuropsychological test scores.
Conclusion: FMRI abnormalities are present in childhood-onset SLE, manifesting as an imbalance between active and inhibitory responses to an array of stimuli. Differences in brain activation patterns compared with those observed in controls suggest that childhood-onset SLE may be associated with abnormalities in white matter connectivity resulting in neuronal network dysfunction, rather than injury of specific gray matter areas.