To identify abnormal thalamocortical circuits in the severe epilepsy of Lennox–Gastaut syndrome (LGS) that may explain the shared electroclinical phenotype and provide potential treatment targets.
Twenty patients with a diagnosis of LGS (mean age = 28.5 years) and 26 healthy controls (mean age = 27.6 years) were compared using task-free functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The thalamus was parcellated according to functional connectivity with 10 cortical networks derived using group-level independent component analysis. For each cortical network, we assessed between-group differences in thalamic functional connectivity strength using nonparametric permutation-based tests. Anatomical locations were identified by quantifying spatial overlap with a histologically informed thalamic MRI atlas.
In both groups, posterior thalamic regions showed functional connectivity with visual, auditory, and sensorimotor networks, whereas anterior, medial, and dorsal thalamic regions were connected with networks of distributed association cortex (including the default-mode, anterior-salience, and executive-control networks). Four cortical networks (left and right executive-control network; ventral and dorsal default-mode network) showed significantly enhanced thalamic functional connectivity strength in patients relative to controls. Abnormal connectivity was maximal in mediodorsal and ventrolateral thalamic nuclei.
Specific thalamocortical circuits are affected in LGS. Functional connectivity is abnormally enhanced between the mediodorsal and ventrolateral thalamus and the default-mode and executive-control networks, thalamocortical circuits that normally support diverse cognitive processes. In contrast, thalamic regions connecting with primary and sensory cortical networks appear to be less affected. Our previous neuroimaging studies show that epileptic activity in LGS is expressed via the default-mode and executive-control networks. Results of the present study suggest that the mediodorsal and ventrolateral thalamus may be candidate targets for modulating abnormal network behavior underlying LGS, potentially via emerging thalamic neurostimulation therapies.