Thalamo-cortical network pathology in idiopathic generalized epilepsy: insights from MRI-based morphometric correlation analysis

Bernhardt BC, Rozen DA, Worsley KJ, Evans AC, Bernasconi N, Bernasconi A. Neuroimage. 2009 Jun;46(2):373-81


Epileptic activity underlying idiopathic generalized epilepsy (IGE) is related to abnormal thalamo-cortical interactions. Our purpose was to map in vivo the organization of the thalamo-cortical network in IGE. We measured cortical thickness and thalamic volumes on MRI in 23 IGE patients with generalized tonic-clonic seizures only and 46 healthy controls. Significant correlations between thalamic volumes and cortical thickness were interpreted as thalamo-cortical network connections. In controls, thickness of frontal, limbic, and occipital regions was positively correlated with the thalamic volumes, corresponding to known anatomical connections from sacrificial tracer studies in primates and human in vivo DTI data. In patients, thalamo-cortical network correlations increased in fronto-central and parietal regions, but decreased in limbic areas. Group analysis revealed that, compared to controls, IGE patients had bilateral thalamic atrophy and widespread cortical thinning that was most prominent in fronto-central areas, with a prevalence of up to 40%. Duration of epilepsy affected negatively thalamic volumes and thickness of fronto-central and limbic cortices. These effects were significantly different from aging in controls. Patients with poorly controlled seizures showed an even faster progression in these neocortical regions. Fronto-centro-parietal atrophy in IGE is likely the effect of generalized seizure activity inducing thalamo-cortical network remodeling. On the other hand, limbic abnormalities may take place secondary to thalamic disconnection.