Thalamo-Cortical Disruption Contributes to Short-Term Memory Deficits in Patients with Medial Temporal Lobe Damage.
Voets NL., Menke RAL., Jbabdi S., Husain M., Stacey R., Carpenter K., Adcock JE.
Short-term (STM) and long-term memory (LTM) have largely been considered as separate brain systems reflecting fronto-parietal and medial temporal lobe (MTL) functions, respectively. This functional dichotomy has been called into question by evidence of deficits on aspects of working memory in patients with MTL damage, suggesting a potentially direct hippocampal contribution to STM. As the hippocampus has direct anatomical connections with the thalamus, we tested the hypothesis that damage to thalamic nuclei regulating cortico-cortical interactions may contribute to STM deficits in patients with hippocampal dysfunction. We used diffusion-weighted magnetic resonance imaging-based tractography to identify anatomical subdivisions in patients with MTL epilepsy. From these, we measured resting-state functional connectivity with detailed cortical divisions of the frontal, temporal, and parietal lobes. Whereas thalamo-temporal functional connectivity reflected LTM performance, thalamo-prefrontal functional connectivity specifically predicted STM performance. Notably, patients with hippocampal volume loss showed thalamic volume loss, most prominent in the pulvinar region, not detected in patients with normal hippocampal volumes. Aberrant thalamo-cortical connectivity in the epileptic hemisphere was mirrored in a loss of behavioral association with STM performance specifically in patients with hippocampal atrophy. These findings identify thalamo-cortical disruption as a potential mechanism contributing to STM deficits in the context of MTL damage.