Functional connectivity alternation of the thalamus in restless legs syndrome patients during the asymptomatic period: a resting-state connectivity study using functional magnetic resonance imaging

Sleep Med. 2014 Mar;15(3):289-94. doi: 10.1016/j.sleep.2013.09.030. Epub 2014 Jan 30.


Background: Restless legs syndrome (RLS) is a primary sensory disorder with a secondary motor component (e.g., urge to move), and the thalamus is known to play a central role in RLS. The purpose of our study was to explore the intrinsic changes in the thalamocortical circuit in RLS patients using a resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) paradigm.

Methods: Resting-state fMRIs were obtained in the morning from 25 idiopathic RLS patients who were not using RLS medications and 25 controls. Resting-state connectivity was analyzed by a seed-based method using Analysis of Functional NeuroImages (AFNI) software with the bilateral thalami (ventroposterolateral nucleus [VPLN]). The connectivity characteristics of RLS patients were compared to those of the controls.

Results: We found that RLS patients showed reduced thalamic connectivity with the right parahippocampal gyrus, right precuneus, right precentral gyrus, and bilateral lingual gyri; however, the right superior temporal gyrus, bilateral middle temporal gyrus, and right medial frontal gyrus showed enhanced connectivity with the thalamus. RLS severity was negatively correlated with connectivity between the thalamus and right parahippocampal gyrus (r = -0.414; P = .040).

Conclusions: Our results suggest that the characteristics of the connectivity changes may reflect the pathways involved in producing RLS symptoms and indicate that RLS patients may have deficits in controlling and managing sensory information, which supports the act of viewing RLS as a disorder disrupting somatosensory processing.

Keywords: Central pain; Connectivity; MRI; Resting fMRI; Restless legs syndrome (RLS); Thalamus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Functional Neuroimaging
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neural Pathways / physiopathology
  • Restless Legs Syndrome / physiopathology*
  • Thalamus / physiopathology*