Functional connectivity of the cortico-subcortical sensorimotor loop is modulated by the severity of nigrostriatal dopaminergic denervation in Parkinson's Disease

NPJ Parkinsons Dis. 2022 Sep 28;8(1):122. doi: 10.1038/s41531-022-00385-w.


To assess if the severity of nigrostriatal innervation loss affects the functional connectivity (FC) of the sensorimotor cortico-striato-thalamic-cortical loop (CSTCL) in Parkinson's Disease (PD), Resting-State functional MRI and 18F-DOPA PET data, simultaneously acquired on a hybrid PET/MRI scanner, were retrospectively analyzed in 39 PD and 16 essential tremor patients. Correlations between posterior Putamen DOPA Uptake (pPDU) and the FC of the main CSTCL hubs were assessed separately in the two groups, analyzing the differences between the two groups by a group-by-pPDU interaction analysis of the resulting clusters' FC. Unlike in essential tremor, in PD patients pPDU correlated inversely with the FC of the thalamus with the sensorimotor cortices, and of the postcentral gyrus with the dorsal cerebellum, and directly with the FC of pre- and post-central gyri with both the superior and middle temporal gyri and the paracentral lobule, and of the caudate with the superior parietal cortex. The interaction analysis confirmed the significance of the difference between the two groups in these correlations. In PD patients, the post-central cortex FC, in the clusters correlating directly with pPDU, negatively correlated with both UPDRS motor examination score and Hoehn and Yahr stage, independent of the pPDU, suggesting that these FC changes contribute to motor impairment. In PD, nigrostriatal innervation loss correlates with a decrease in the FC within the sensorimotor network and between the sensorimotor network and the superior temporal cortices, possibly contributing to motor impairment, and with a strengthening of the thalamo-cortical FC, that may represent ineffective compensatory phenomena.