Obstructive sleep apnea (OSA) patients experience hypoxia and, potentially, autonomic impairments stemming from neural damage. In this study, the executive control networks (ECNs), salience networks (SNs), and default mode networks (DMNs) of adult OSA patients, as well as their relationships with autonomic impairment, were investigated through independent component analysis (ICA).
A total of 41 OSA patients and 19 healthy controls volunteers were recruited and subjected to polysomnography to ascertain their degree, if any, of sleep apnea. Each participant also underwent a cardiovascular autonomic survey, with the participant’s baroreflex sensitivity (BRS) being determined based on heart rate and blood pressure alterations. The resting fMRI data of the participants was separated using probabilistic ICA, and six autonomic resting-state networks were established for group comparisons. The differences in autonomic parameters, autonomic functional connectivity (FC), and clinical severity were then correlated.
The OSA group had significantly worse BRS values than the controls, as well as lower FC in the posterior and anterior SNs, bilateral ECNs, and the ventral DMN, and higher FC in the left ECN. These intrinsic connectivity networks showed dissociable correlations with greater baroreflex impairment and clinical disease severity. The higher FC in the left ECN was associated with the lower FC in the ventral DMN.
Our findings suggest that autonomic dysfunction in OSA might be accompanied by central autonomic network alterations. The stronger sympathetic-associated regions in ECNs and the weaker parasympathetic-associated regions in DMNs may represent intrinsic neural architecture fluctuations underlining their consequent processes in OSA.
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