Structural and functional brain connectome in motor neuron diseases: A multicenter MRI study

Neurology. 2020 Nov 3;95(18):e2552-e2564. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000010731. Epub 2020 Sep 10.


Objective: To investigate structural and functional neural organization in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), primary lateral sclerosis (PLS), and progressive muscular atrophy (PMA).

Methods: A total of 173 patients with sporadic ALS, 38 patients with PLS, 28 patients with PMA, and 79 healthy controls were recruited from 3 Italian centers. Participants underwent clinical, neuropsychological, and brain MRI evaluations. Using graph analysis and connectomics, global and lobar topologic network properties and regional structural and functional brain connectivity were assessed. The association between structural and functional network organization and clinical and cognitive data was investigated.

Results: Compared with healthy controls, patients with ALS and patients with PLS showed altered structural global network properties, as well as local topologic alterations and decreased structural connectivity in sensorimotor, basal ganglia, frontal, and parietal areas. Patients with PMA showed preserved global structure. Patient groups did not show significant alterations of functional network topologic properties relative to controls. Increased local functional connectivity was observed in patients with ALS in the precentral, middle, and superior frontal areas, and in patients with PLS in the sensorimotor, basal ganglia, and temporal networks. In patients with ALS and patients with PLS, structural connectivity alterations correlated with motor impairment, whereas functional connectivity disruption was closely related to executive dysfunction and behavioral disturbances.

Conclusions: This multicenter study showed widespread motor and extramotor network degeneration in ALS and PLS, suggesting that graph analysis and connectomics might represent a powerful approach to detect upper motor neuron degeneration, extramotor brain changes, and network reorganization associated with the disease. Network-based advanced MRI provides an objective in vivo assessment of motor neuron diseases, delivering potential prognostic markers.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis / complications
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis / pathology*
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis / psychology
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / complications
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / pathology*
  • Connectome / psychology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motor Neuron Disease / complications
  • Motor Neuron Disease / pathology*
  • Motor Neuron Disease / psychology
  • Muscular Atrophy, Spinal / complications
  • Muscular Atrophy, Spinal / pathology
  • Muscular Atrophy, Spinal / psychology
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Prospective Studies