Poor sleep and insomnia have been recognized to be strongly correlated with the development of depression. The exploration of the basic mechanism of sleep disturbance could provide the basis for improved understanding and treatment of insomnia and prevention of depression. In this study, 31 subjects with insomnia symptoms as measured by the Hamilton Rating Scale for Depression (HAMD-17) and 71 age- and gender-matched subjects without insomnia symptoms were recruited to participate in a clinical trial. Using resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (rs-fMRI), we examined the alterations in spontaneous brain activity between the two groups. Correlations between the fractional amplitude of low frequency fluctuations (fALFF) and clinical measurements (e.g., insomnia severity and Hamilton Depression Rating Scale [HAMD] scores) were also tested in all subjects. Compared to healthy participants without insomnia symptoms, participants with insomnia symptoms showed a decreased fALFF in the left ventral anterior insula, bilateral posterior insula, left thalamus, and pons but an increased fALFF in the bilateral middle occipital gyrus and right precentral gyrus. More specifically, a significant, negative correlation of fALFF in the left thalamus with early morning awakening scores and HAMD scores in the overall sample was identified. These results suggest that insomnia symptoms are associated with altered spontaneous activity in the brain regions of several important functional networks, including the insular cortex of the salience and the thalamus of the hyperarousal network. The altered fALFF in the left thalamus supports the "hyperarousal theory" of insomnia symptoms, which could serve as a biomarker for insomnia.
Keywords: Insula; Low-frequency oscillations; Resting-state; Sleep disturbance; Thalamus.
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