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Functional network alterations in young brain tumor patients with radiotherapy-induced memory impairments and vascular injury



Cognitive impairment and cerebral microbleeds (CMBs) are long-term side-effects of cranial radiation therapy (RT). Previously we showed that memory function is disrupted in young patients and that the rate of cognitive decline correlates with CMB development. However, vascular injury alone cannot explain RT-induced cognitive decline. Here we use resting-state functional MRI (rsfMRI) to further investigate the complex mechanisms underlying memory impairment after RT.


Nineteen young patients previously treated with or without focal or whole-brain RT for a brain tumor underwent cognitive testing followed by 7T rsfMRI and susceptibility-weighted imaging for CMB detection. Global brain modularity and efficiency, and rsfMRI signal variability within the dorsal attention, salience, and frontoparietal networks were computed. We evaluated whether MR metrics could distinguish age- and sex-matched controls (N = 19) from patients and differentiate patients based on RT exposure and aggressiveness. We also related MR metrics with memory performance, CMB burden, and risk factors for cognitive decline after RT.


Compared to controls, patients exhibited widespread hyperconnectivity, similar modularity, and significantly increased efficiency (p < 0.001) and network variability (p < 0.001). The most abnormal values were detected in patients treated with high dose whole-brain RT, having supratentorial tumors, and who did not undergo RT but had hydrocephalus. MR metrics and memory performance were correlated (R = 0.34-0.53), though MR metrics were more strongly related to risk factors for cognitive worsening and CMB burden with evidence of functional recovery.


MR metrics describing brain connectivity and variability represent promising candidate imaging biomarkers for monitoring of long-term cognitive side-effects after RT.

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