BACKGROUND: Combination of structural and functional data of the human brain can provide detailed information of neurodegenerative diseases and the influence of the disease on various local cortical areas.
METHODOLOGY AND PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: To examine the relationship between structure and function of the brain the cortical thickness based on structural magnetic resonance images and motor cortex excitability assessed with transcranial magnetic stimulation were correlated in Alzheimer's disease (AD) and mild cognitive impairment (MCI) patients as well as in age-matched healthy controls. Motor cortex excitability correlated negatively with cortical thickness on the sensorimotor cortex, the precuneus and the cuneus but the strength of the correlation varied between the study groups. On the sensorimotor cortex the correlation was significant only in MCI subjects. On the precuneus and cuneus the correlation was significant both in AD and MCI subjects. In healthy controls the motor cortex excitability did not correlate with the cortical thickness.
CONCLUSIONS: In healthy subjects the motor cortex excitability is not dependent on the cortical thickness, whereas in neurodegenerative diseases the cortical thinning is related to weaker cortical excitability, especially on the precuneus and cuneus. However, in AD subjects there seems to be a protective mechanism of hyperexcitability on the sensorimotor cortex counteracting the prominent loss of cortical volume since the motor cortex excitability did not correlate with the cortical thickness. Such protective mechanism was not found on the precuneus or cuneus nor in the MCI subjects. Therefore, our results indicate that the progression of the disease proceeds with different dynamics in the structure and function of neuronal circuits from normal conditions via MCI to AD.
2011. Vol. 6, no 10, 1-8 p.