Functional MRI Correlates of Carbon Dioxide Chemosensing in Persons With Epilepsy

Johnson P. Hampson, Nuria Lacuey, MRS Sandhya Rani, Jaison S. Hampson, Kristina A. Simeone, Timothy A. Simeone, Ponnada A. Narayana, Louis Lemieux, Samden D. Lhatoo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Objectives: Sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP) is a catastrophic epilepsy outcome for which there are no reliable premortem imaging biomarkers of risk. Percival respiratory depression is seen in monitored SUDEP and near SUDEP cases, and abnormal chemosensing of raised blood carbon dioxide (CO2) is thought to contribute. Damage to brainstem respiratory control and chemosensing structures has been demonstrated in structural imaging and neuropathological studies of SUDEP. We hypothesized that functional MRI (fMRI) correlates of abnormal chemosensing are detectable in brainstems of persons with epilepsy (PWE) and are different from healthy controls (HC). Methods: We analyzed fMRI BOLD activation and brain connectivity in 10 PWE and 10 age- and sex-matched HCs during precisely metered iso-oxic, hypercapnic breathing challenges. Segmented brainstem responses were of particular interest, along with characterization of functional connectivity metrics between these structures. Regional BOLD activations during hypercapnic challenges were convolved with hemodynamic responses, and the resulting activation maps were passed on to group-level analyses. For the functional connectivity analysis, significant clusters from BOLD results were used as seeds. Each individual seed time-series activation map was extracted for bivariate correlation coefficient analyses to study changes in brain connectivity between PWE and HCs. Results: (1) Greater brainstem BOLD activations in PWE were observed compared to HC during hypercapnic challenges in several structures with respiratory/chemosensing properties. Group comparison between PWE vs. HC showed significantly greater activation in the dorsal raphe among PWE (p < 0.05) compared to HCs. (2) PWE had significantly greater seed-seed connectivity and recruited more structures during hypercapnia compared to HC. Significance: The results of this study show that BOLD responses to hypercapnia in human brainstem are detectable and different in PWE compared to HC. Increased dorsal raphe BOLD activation in PWE and increased seed-seed connectivity between brainstem and adjacent subcortical areas may indicate abnormal chemosensing in these individuals. Imaging investigation of brainstem respiratory centers involved in respiratory regulation in PWE is an important step toward identifying suspected dysfunction of brainstem breathing control that culminates in SUDEP and deserve further study as potential imaging SUDEP biomarkers.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number896204
JournalFrontiers in Neurology
StatePublished - Jul 7 2022

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology


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