The thalamus has been implicated in various stages of medial temporal lobe epilepsy (MTLE) seizure evolution. The relative density and functional significance (in epileptogenesis) of thalamic projections to MTL subregions, however, remains to be determined. This study used structural and diffusion magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to evaluate thalamic connection density with distinct MTL subregions in terms of location and volume. Nineteen MTLE patients with unilateral hippocampal sclerosis (HS; 12 right; 10 female) were compared to 19 age-matched controls. Five regions of interest (ROIs) per hemisphere were created in native space: thalamus, amygdala, entorhinal cortex, hippocampus, and parahippocampus. Separate probabilistic tractography analyses were performed between the thalamus and each ipsilateral MTL subregion (four per hemisphere). Individual connectivity profiles and regional volumes were assessed. The medial pulvinar consistently showed the highest connection density with the hippocampus in healthy controls and in MTLE patients. Decreased thalamic connected volume was observed for thalamohippocampal pathways in patients with MTLE, and indicates pathway-specific deafferentation. Regional hippocampal and thalamic atrophy was also observed, indicating gray and white matter loss in the thalamohippocampal pathway. Consistent localization of dense medial pulvinar (PuM) connectivity with the hippocampus suggests chronic PuM stimulation could modulate the MTLE seizure network. Decreased thalamic connected volume is a promising biomarker for epileptogenesis that merits longitudinal validation.
A PowerPoint slide summarizing this article is available for download in the Supporting Information section here.