Functional connectivity of the fusiform gyrus during a face-matching task in subjects with mild cognitive impairment

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Cognitive function requires a high level of functional interaction between regions of a network supporting cognition. Assuming that brain activation changes denote an advanced state of disease progression, changes in functional connectivity may precede changes in brain activation. The objective of this study was to investigate changes in functional connectivity of the right middle fusiform gyrus (FG) in subjects with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) during performance of a face-matching task. The right middle FG is a key area for processing face stimuli. Brain activity was measured using functional MRI. There were 16 MCI subjects and 19 age-matched healthy controls. The linear correlation coefficient was utilized as a measure of functional connectivity between the right middle FG and all other voxels in the brain. There were no statistical differences found in task performance or activation between groups. The right middle FG of the healthy control and MCI groups showed strong bilateral positive linear correlation with the visual cortex, inferior and superior parietal lobules, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) and anterior cingulate. The healthy controls showed higher positive linear correlation of the right middle FG to the visual cortex, parietal lobes and right DLPFC than the MCI group, whereas the latter had higher positive linear correlation in the left cuneus. In the healthy controls, the right middle FG had negative linear correlation with right medial frontal gyrus and superior temporal gyrus and with left inferior parietal lobule (IPL), angular gyrus, superior frontal gyrus and anterior cingulate gyrus, but the MCI group had negative linear correlation with the left IPL, angular gyrus, precuneus, anterior cingulate, and to right middle temporal gyrus and posterior cingulate gyrus. In the negatively linearly correlated regions, the MCI group had reduced functional connectivity to the frontal areas, right superior temporal gyrus and left IPL. Different regions of the cuneus and IPL had increased functional connectivity in either group. The putative presence of Alzheimer's disease neuropathology in MCI affects functional connectivity from the right middle FG to the visual areas and medial frontal areas. In addition, higher linear correlation in the MCI group in the parietal lobe may indicate the initial appearance of compensatory processes. The results demonstrate that functional connectivity can be an effective marker for the detection of changes in brain function in MCI subjects.

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