Functional brain networks: Linking thalamic atrophy to clinical disability in multiple sclerosis, a multimodal fMRI and MEG Study

Prejaas Tewarie*, Menno M. Schoonheim, Daphne I. Schouten, Chris H. Polman, Lisanne J. Balk, Bernard M.J. Uitdehaag, Jeroen J.G. Geurts, Arjan Hillebrand, Frederik Barkhof, Cornelis J. Stam

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

76 Citations (Scopus)


Thalamic atrophy is known to be one of the most important predictors for clinical dysfunction in multiple sclerosis (MS). As the thalamus is highly connected to many cortical areas, this suggests that thalamic atrophy is associated with disruption of cortical functional networks. We investigated this thalamo-cortical system to explain the presence of physical and cognitive problems in MS. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and magnetoencephalography (MEG) were performed in 86 MS patients and 21 healthy subjects. We computed cortical functional networks for fMRI and MEG by respectively the Pearson's correlation coefficient and the phase lag index using the same automated anatomical labeling atlas for both modalities. Thalamo-cortical functional connectivity was only estimated using fMRI. We computed conventional network metrics such as clustering coefficient and path length and analyzed the minimum spanning tree (MST), a subnetwork and backbone of the original network. MS patients showed reduced thalamic volumes and increased thalamo-cortical connectivity. MEG cortical functional networks showed a lower level of integration in MS in terms of the MST, whereas fMRI cortical networks did not differ between groups. Lower integration of MEG cortical functional networks was both related to thalamic atrophy as well as to increased thalamo-cortical functional connectivity in fMRI and to worse cognitive and clinical status. This study demonstrated for the first time that thalamic atrophy is associated with global disruption of cortical functional networks in MS and this global disruption of network activity was related to worse cognitive and clinical function in MS.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)603-618
Number of pages16
JournalHuman brain mapping
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2015
Externally publishedYes


  • FMRI
  • Functional connectivity
  • Functional networks
  • MEG
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Thalamic atrophy
  • n/a OA procedure


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