Cannabidiol normalizes resting-state functional connectivity in treatment-resistant epilepsy.

Objective: Resting-state (rs) network dysfunction is a contributing factor to treatment resistance in epilepsy. In treatment-resistant epilepsy (TRE), pharmacological and nonpharmacological therapies have been shown to improve such dysfunction. In this study, our goal was to prospectively evaluate the effect of highly purified plant-derived cannabidiol (CBD; Epidiolex®) on rs functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) functional connectivity (rs-FC). We hypothesized that CBD would change and potentially normalize the rs-FC in TRE.

Methods: Twenty-two of 27 participants with TRE completed all study procedures including longitudinal pre-/on-CBD rs-fMRI (8M/14F, mean age = 36.2 ± 15.9 years, TRE duration = 18.3 ± 12.6 years); there were no differences in age (p = 0.99) or sex (p = 0.15) between groups. Assessments collected included seizure frequency (SF), Chalfont Seizure Severity Scale (CSSS), Columbia Suicide Severity Rating Scale (C-SSRS), Adverse Events Profile (AEP), and Profile of Mood States (POMS). Twenty-three healthy controls (HCs) received rs-fMRI and POMS once.

Results: Participants with TRE showed average decrease of 71.7% in SF (p < 0.0001) and improved CSSS, AEP, and POMS confusion, depression, and fatigue subscores (all p < 0.05) on-CBD with POMS scores becoming similar to those of HCs. Paired t-tests showed significant pre-/on-CBD changes in rs-FC in cerebellum, frontal areas, temporal areas, hippocampus, and amygdala with some of them correlating with improvement in behavioral measures. Significant differences in rs-FC between pre-CBD and HCs were found in cerebellum, frontal, and occipital regions. After controlling for changes in SF with CBD, these differences were no longer present when comparing on-CBD to HCs.

Significance: This study indicates that highly purified CBD modulates and potentially normalizes rs-FC in the epileptic brain. This effect may underlie its efficacy. This study provides Class III evidence for CBD’s normalizing effect on rs-FC in TRE.

Keywords: Cannabidiol; Connectivity; Resting state; Seizures; Treatment-resistant epilepsy; fMRI.

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