Functional connectivity (FC) of the motor network (MN) is often used to investigate how intrinsic properties of the brain are associated with motor abilities and performance. In addition, the MN is a key feature in clinical work to map the recovery after stroke and aid the understanding of neurodegenerative disorders. Time of day variation and individual differences in circadian timing, however, have not yet been considered collectively when looking at FC.
A total of 33 healthy, right handed individuals (13 male, 23.1 ± 4.2 years) took part in the study. Actigraphy, sleep diaries and circadian phase markers (dim light melatonin onset and cortisol awakening response) were used to determine early (ECP, n = 13) and late (LCP, n = 20) circadian phenotype groups. Resting state functional MRI testing sessions were conducted at 14:00 h, 20:00 h and 08:00 h and preceded by a maximum voluntary contraction test for isometric grip strength to measure motor performance.
Significant differences in FC of the MN between ECPs and LCPs were found, as well as significant variations between different times of day. A higher amplitude in diurnal variation of FC and performance was observed in LCPs compared to ECPs, with the morning being most significantly affected. Overall, lower FC was significantly associated with poorer motor performance.
Our findings uncover intrinsic differences between times of day and circadian phenotype groups. This suggests that central mechanisms contribute to diurnal variation in motor performance and the functional integrity of the MN at rest influences the ability to perform in a motor task.
NOTE: This study used the CamNtech Actiwatch Light (AWL) which was discontinued in 2012 – Direct replacement is MotionWatch 8.