Pediatric brain tumor patients often experience significant cognitive sequelae. Resting-state functional MRI (rsfMRI) provides a measure of brain network organization, and we hypothesize that pediatric brain tumor patients treated with proton therapy will demonstrate abnormal brain network architecture related to cognitive outcome and radiation dosimetry.
Pediatric brain tumor patients treated with proton therapy were enrolled on a prospective study of cognitive assessment using the NIH Toolbox Cognitive Domain. rsfMRI was obtained in participants able to complete unsedated MRI. Brain system segregation (BSS), a measure of brain network architecture, was calculated for the whole brain, the high-level cognition association systems, and the sensory-motor systems.
Twenty-six participants were enrolled in the study for cognitive assessment, and 18 completed rsfMRI. There were baseline cognitive deficits in attention and inhibition and processing speed prior to radiation with worsening performance over time in multiple domains. Average BSS across the whole brain was significantly decreased in participants compared with healthy controls (1.089 and 1.101, respectively; P = 0.001). Average segregation of association systems was significantly lower in participants than in controls (P < 0.001) while there was no difference in the sensory motor networks (P = 0.70). Right hippocampus dose was associated with worse attention and inhibition (P < 0.05) and decreased segregation in the dorsal attention network (P < 0.05).
Higher mean dose to the right hippocampus correlated with worse dorsal attention network segregation and worse attention and inhibition cognitive performance. Patients demonstrated alterations in brain network organization of association systems measured with rsfMRI; however, somatosensory system segregation was no different from healthy children. Further work with preradiation rsfMRI is needed to assess the effects of surgery and presence of a tumor on brain network architecture.