Pharmacological modulation of functional connectivity: α2-adrenergic receptor agonist alters synchrony but not neural activation

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Correlative low frequency fluctuations in functional MRI (fMRI) signals across brain regions at rest have been taken as a measure of functional connectivity to map large-scale neural networks; however, the neural origin is still not clear. Receptor-targeted pharmacological manipulation could elucidate the role of neuroreceptor systems in resting-state functional connectivity to provide another perspective on the mechanism. In this study, the dose-dependent effects of an α2-adrenergic receptor agonist, medetomidine, on brain activation and functional connectivity were investigated. Forepaw stimulation-induced activation and resting-state fluctuation in the rat somatosensory cortices and caudate putamen were measured using the blood oxygenation level dependent (BOLD) fMRI. The results showed significant dose-dependent suppression of inter-hemispheric correlation but not the amplitude in the somatosensory areas, while the stimulation-induced activation in the same areas remained unchanged. To clarify the potential change in the hemodynamic response caused by the vasoconstrictive effect of medetomidine, the resting perfusion fluctuation was studied by arterial spin labeling and showed similar results as the BOLD. This suggests that the oxygen metabolic rate and hence the neural activity may not be affected by medetomidine but only the synchrony between brain regions was suppressed. Furthermore, no change in functional connectivity with medetomidine dosages was seen in the caudate putamen, a region with much lower α2-receptor density. These results indicate that resting-state signal correlation may reflect underlying neuroreceptor activity and a potential role of the adrenergic system in the functional connectivity.

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