The ParkCycle study: investigating the effects of aerobic exercise on resting-state functional connectivity in Parkinson’s disease

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Parkinson’s disease is characterized by nigro-striatal dopamine depletion and it has been suggested that this depletion influences cortico-striatal functional connectivity. Aerobic exercise is known to promote neuroplasticity, suggesting it might induce partial neurorestoration in cortico-striatal circuits. Therefore, we investigated if a six-month aerobic exercise intervention can partially normalize disease-related changes in functional connectivity in a randomized controlled trial. Patients with Parkinson’s disease underwent resting-state fMRI scanning before and after the exercise intervention or control intervention where subjects simply maintained their activity level, and we performed a longitudinal group comparison of the resting-state functional connectivity between different subdivisions of the putamen and the rest of the brain, because distinct striatal subregions are differentially affected by dopamine depletion. Aside from the whole-brain search volume, we also performed a region of interest analysis focusing on changes in connectivity between the putamen and the right inferior parietal cortex, a region previously identified as showing changes in cortico-striatal connectivity because of Parkinson’s disease. At the whole brain-level, we observed an increase in resting-state functional connectivity with the right dorsoposterior putamen in the posterolateral cerebellum for the aerobic exercise intervention group, and the opposite pattern (i.e., a decrease) for the control group. When restricting the search volume to the right inferior parietal cortex, we also found that the intervention group showed a decrease in functional connectivity between a subregion of this area and the dorsoanterior putamen, while an increase was observed in the control group. These results do support the possibility for changes in functional connectivity to occur as the results of aerobic training, however, the small sample size necessitates a larger, sufficiently powered study to verify our results.
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