Disrupted Amygdala Connectivity Is Associated With Elevated Anxiety in Sensorineural Hearing Loss

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Background and Purpose: Hearing loss is associated with rising risks of emotional impairments, suggesting emotional processing networks might be involved in the neural plasticity after hearing loss. This study was conducted to explore how functional connectivity of the amygdala reconfigures in the auditory deprived brain and better understand the neural mechanisms underlying hearing loss-related emotional disturbances.

Methods: In total, 38 chronic sensorineural hearing loss (SNHL) patients and 37 healthy controls were recruited for multimodal magnetic resonance imaging scanning and neuropsychological assessments. Voxel-wise functional connectivity (FC) maps of both the left and right amygdala were conducted and compared between the SNHL patients and healthy controls. The uncinate fasciculus (UF), an association fiber pathway, was reconstructed in both groups. The track number, mean track length, fractional anisotropy (FA) and mean diffusion values of the left and right UF were further quantified, respectively. Besides, Pearson’s correlation analyses were conducted to investigate the relationship between the functional/structural abnormalities and the negative emotional states in SNHL patients.

Results: The SNHL patients presented higher depressive and anxious levels compared to the healthy controls. Decreased FCs were detected between the amygdala and the auditory cortex, striatum, multimodal processing areas, and frontoparietal control areas in the SNHL patients. The amygdala was found to be structurally connected with several FC decreased regions through the UF. Moreover, the hypo-synchronization and the white matter impairment were both found to be associated with patients’ elevated anxious status.

Conclusions: These functional and structural findings depicted the reconfiguration of the amygdala in SNHL, which provided a new perspective toward the functional circuit mechanisms targeting the emotional impairments related to hearing loss.

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