Metabolic and Functional Connectivity Changes in Mal de Debarquement Syndrome

ORIGINAL RESEARCH ARTICLE: Published in PLOS One, November 29, 2012


Background: Individuals with mal de debarquement syndrome (MdDS) experience a chronic illusion of self-motion triggered by prolonged exposure to passive motion, such as from sea or air travel. The experience is one of rocking dizziness similar to when the individual was originally on the motion trigger such as a boat or airplane. MdDS represents a prolonged version of a normal phenomenon familiar to most individuals but which persists for months or years in others. It represents a natural example of the neuroplasticity of motion adaptation. However, the localization of where that motion adaptation occurs is unknown. Our goal was to localize metabolic and functional connectivity changes associated with persistent MdDS.

Methods: Twenty subjects with MdDS lasting a median duration of 17.5 months were compared to 20 normal controls with 18F FDG PET and resting state fMRI. Resting state metabolism and functional connectivity were calculated using age, grey matter volume, and mood and anxiety scores as nuisance covariates.

Results: MdDS subjects showed increased metabolism in the left entorhinal cortex and amygdala (z>3.3). Areas of relative hypometabolism included the left superior medial gyrus, left middle frontal gyrus, right amygdala, right insula, and clusters in the left superior, middle, and inferior temporal gyri. MdDS subjects showed increased connectivity between the entorhinal cortex/amygdala cluster and posterior visual and vestibular processing areas including middle temporal gyrus, motion sensitive area MT/V5, superior parietal lobule, and primary visual cortex, while showing decreased connectivity to multiple prefrontal areas.

Conclusion: These data show an association between resting state metabolic activity and functional connectivity between the entorhinal cortex and amygdala in a human disorder of abnormal motion perception. We propose a model for how these biological substrates can allow a limited period of motion exposure to lead to chronic perceptions of self-motion.

Keywords: abnormal motion perception, amygdala, decreased connectivity, entorhinal cortex, functional connectivity, hypometabolism, neurological, neuroplasticity, rocking dizziness