Radiation-induced cerebellar–cerebral functional connectivity alterations in nasopharyngeal carcinoma patients

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The current study aimed to investigate the altered cerebellar–cerebral functional connectivity (FC) induced by radiotherapy to nasopharyngeal carcinoma (NPC) patients. Twenty-four NPC patients without treatment, and 35 NPC patients receiving radiotherapy underwent functional MRI scanning. Montreal cognitive assessment (MoCA) was performed to evaluate the cognitive status of all participants. FC between 10 predefined cerebellar seeds, which were demonstrated to be involved in different brain functional networks, and all brain voxels was obtained for each participant. Using a second-level two-sample t-test, three significantly different FCs between the two patient groups were found, including the connections between the left lobule VIII and the right medial frontal gyrus, the left lobule VIII and the right crus I, and the right lobule VIIb and the right fusiform gyrus. The altered cerebellar–cerebral FCs were also significantly correlated to the MoCA score, as well as the attention score, one of the seven subscores in MoCA. We suggested that the altered cerebellar–cerebral FCs may underlie the radiation-induced cognitive deficits in NPC patients, especially in the domain of attention. Furthermore, considering the functional networks in which the altered connections involved, the anticorrelation between the default network and dorsal attention network may be impaired, and the mediating function of the frontoparietal network to dorsal attention network may be disrupted. The significantly altered cerebellar–cerebral FC may serve as the potential biomarker in revealing the radiation-induced functional abnormalities and may help in the early intervention to the cognitive impairment.

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