People with mesial temporal lobe epilepsy have altered thalamo-occipital brain networks

Epilepsy Behav. 2021 Feb;115:107645. doi: 10.1016/j.yebeh.2020.107645. Epub 2020 Dec 15.


While temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE) is a focal epilepsy, previous work demonstrates that TLE causes widespread brain-network disruptions. Impaired visuospatial attention and learning in TLE may be related to thalamic arousal nuclei connectivity. Our prior preliminary work in a smaller patient cohort suggests that patients with TLE demonstrate abnormal functional connectivity between central lateral (CL) thalamic nucleus and medial occipital lobe. Others have shown pulvinar connectivity disturbances in TLE, but it is incompletely understood how TLE affects pulvinar subnuclei. Also, the effects of epilepsy surgery on thalamic functional connectivity remains poorly understood. In this study, we examine the effects of TLE on functional connectivity of two key thalamic arousal-nuclei: lateral pulvinar (PuL) and CL. We evaluate resting-state functional connectivity of the PuL and CL in 40 patients with TLE and 40 controls using fMRI. In 25 patients, postoperative images (>1 year) were also compared with preoperative images. Compared to controls, patients with TLE exhibit loss of normal positive connectivity between PuL and lateral occipital lobe (p < 0.05), and a loss of normal negative connectivity between CL and medial occipital lobe (p < 0.01, paired t-tests). FMRI amplitude of low-frequency fluctuation (ALFF) in TLE trended higher in ipsilateral PuL (p = 0.06), but was lower in the lateral occipital (p < 0.01) and medial occipital lobe in patients versus controls (p < 0.05, paired t-tests). More abnormal ALFF in the ipsilateral lateral occipital lobe is associated with worse preoperative performance on Rey Complex Figure Test Immediate (p < 0.05, r = 0.381) and Delayed scores (p < 0.05, r = 0.413, Pearson's Correlations). After surgery, connectivity between PuL and lateral occipital lobe remains abnormal in patients (p < 0.01), but connectivity between CL and medial occipital lobe improves and is no longer different from control values (p > 0.05, ANOVA, post hoc Fischer's LSD). In conclusion, thalamic arousal nuclei exhibit abnormal connectivity with occipital lobe in TLE, and some connections may improve after surgery. Studying thalamic arousal centers may help explain distal network disturbances in TLE.

Keywords: ALFF; Central lateral nucleus; Functional connectivity; Pulvinar; Temporal lobe epilepsy; Visuospatial attention.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Arousal
  • Brain
  • Epilepsy, Temporal Lobe* / complications
  • Epilepsy, Temporal Lobe* / diagnostic imaging
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Thalamus / diagnostic imaging