Stellmann JP, Hodecker S, Cheng B, Wanke N, Young KL, Hilgetag C, Gerloff C, Heesen C, Thomalla G, Siemonsen S.

OBJECTIVE: To investigate whether the structural connectivity of the brain’s rich-club organization is altered in patients with primary progressive MS and whether such changes to this fundamental network feature are associated with disability measures. METHODS: We recruited 37 patients with primary progressive MS and 21 healthy controls for an observational cohort study. Structural connectomes were reconstructed based on diffusion-weighted imaging data using probabilistic tractography and analyzed with graph theory. RESULTS: We observed the same topological organization of brain networks in patients and controls. Consistent with the originally defined rich-club regions, we identified superior frontal, precuneus, superior parietal, and insular cortex in both hemispheres as rich-club nodes. Connectivity within the rich club was significantly reduced in patients with MS (p = 0.039). The extent of reduced rich-club connectivity correlated with clinical measurements of mobility (Kendall rank correlation coefficient τ = -0.20, p = 0.047), hand function (τ = -0.26, p = 0.014), and information processing speed (τ = -0.20, p = 0.049). CONCLUSIONS: In patients with primary progressive MS, the fundamental organization of the structural connectome in rich-club and peripheral nodes was preserved and did not differ from healthy controls. The proportion of rich-club connections was altered and correlated with disability measures. Thus, the rich-club organization of the brain may be a promising network phenotype for understanding the patterns and mechanisms of neurodegeneration in MS.

Neurol Neuroimmunol Neuroinflamm. 2017 Jul 27;4(5):e375

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