Radiation therapy (RT) plays a vital role in the treatment of brain cancers, but it frequently results in cognitive decline in the patients who receive it. Because the underlying mechanisms for this decline remain poorly understood, the brain is typically treated as a single, uniform volume when evaluating the toxic effects of RT plans. This ignorance represents a significant deficit in the field of radiation oncology, as the technology exists to manipulate dose distributions to spare regions of the brain, but there exists no body of knowledge regarding what is critical to spare. This deficit exists due to the numerous confounding factors that are frequently associated with radiotherapy, including the tumors themselves, other treatments such as surgery and chemotherapy, and dose gradients across the brain. Here, we present a case in which a 57-year-old male patient received a uniform dose of radiation across the whole brain, did not receive concurrent chemotherapy, had minimal surgical intervention and a small tumor burden, and received resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans both before and after RT. To our knowledge, this is the first study on the effects of whole-brain radiotherapy on functional network organization, and this patient's treatment regimen represents a rare and non-replicable opportunity to isolate the effects of radiation on functional connectivity. We observed substantial changes in the subject's behavior and functional network organization over a 12-month timeframe. Interestingly, the homogenous radiation dose to the brain had a heterogeneous effect on cortical networks, and the functional networks most affected correspond with observed cognitive behavioral deficits. This novel study suggests that the cognitive decline that occurs after whole-brain radiation therapy may be network specific and related to the disruption of large-scale distributed functional systems, and it indicates that fMRI is a promising avenue of study for optimizing cognitive outcomes after RT.
- cognitive dysfunction
- executive function
- functional magnetic resonance imaging
- radiation dosage