Thalamic amnesia after infarct: the role of the mammillothalamic tract and mediodorsal nucleus

Objective: To improve current understanding of the mechanisms behind thalamic amnesia, as it is unclear whether it is directly related to damage to specific nuclei, in particular to the anterior or mediodorsal nuclei, or indirectly related to lesions of the mammillothalamic tract (MTT).
Methods: We recruited 12 patients with a left thalamic infarction and 25 healthy matched controls. All underwent a comprehensive neuropsychological assessment of verbal and visual memory, executive functions, language, and affect, and a high-resolution structural volumetric MRI scan. Thalamic lesions were manually segmented and automatically localized with a computerized thalamic atlas. As well as comparing patients with controls, we divided patients into subgroups with intact or damaged MTT.
Results: Only one patient had a small lesion of the anterior nucleus. Most of the lesions included the mediodorsal (n = 11) and intralaminar nuclei (n = 12). Patients performed worse than controls on the verbal memory tasks, but the 5 patients with intact MTT who showed isolated lesions of the mediodorsal nucleus (MD) only displayed moderate memory impairment. The 7 patients with a damaged MTT performed worse on the verbal memory tasks than those whose MTT was intact.

Conclusions: Lesions in the MTT and in the MD result in memory impairment, severely in the case of MTT and to a lesser extent in the case of MD, thus highlighting the roles played by these 2 structures in memory circuits.
Reference: Neurology10.1212/WNL.0000000000002226  (Full text)

Disruption of posteromedial large-scale neural communication predicts recovery from coma

Objective: We hypothesize that the major consciousness deficit observed in coma is due to the breakdown of long-range neuronal communication supported by precuneus and posterior cingulate cortex (PCC), and that prognosis depends on a specific connectivity pattern in these networks.
Methods: We compared 27 prospectively recruited comatose patients who had severe brain injury (Glasgow Coma Scale score <8; 14 traumatic and 13 anoxic cases) with 14 age-matched healthy participants. Standardized clinical assessment and fMRI were performed on average 4 ± 2 days after withdrawal of sedation. Analysis of resting-state fMRI connectivity involved a hypothesis-driven, region of interest–based strategy. We assessed patient outcome after 3 months using the Coma Recovery Scale–Revised (CRS-R).
Results: Patients who were comatose showed a significant disruption of functional connectivity of brain areas spontaneously synchronized with PCC, globally notwithstanding etiology. The functional connectivity strength between PCC and medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) was significantly different between comatose patients who went on to recover and those who eventually scored an unfavorable outcome 3 months after brain injury (Kruskal-Wallis test, p < 0.001; linear regression between CRS-R and PCC-mPFC activity coupling at rest, Spearman ρ = 0.93, p < 0.003).

Conclusion: In both etiology groups (traumatic and anoxic), changes in the connectivity of PCC-centered, spontaneously synchronized, large-scale networks account for the loss of external and internal self-centered awareness observed during coma. Sparing of functional connectivity between PCC and mPFC may predict patient outcome, and further studies are needed to substantiate this potential prognosis biomarker.
Reference: Neurology10.1212/WNL.0000000000002196 (Full text)