Reduced functional brain connectivity prior to and after disease onset in Huntington's disease

Eve M Dumas, Simon J A van den Bogaard, Ellen P Hart, Roelof P Soeter, Mark A van Buchem, Jeroen van der Grond, Serge A R B Rombouts, Raymund A C Roos
NeuroImage: Clinical 2013, 2: 377-84

BACKGROUND: Huntington's disease (HD) is characterised by both regional and generalised neuronal cell loss in the brain. Investigating functional brain connectivity patterns in rest in HD has the potential to broaden the understanding of brain functionality in relation to disease progression. This study aims to establish whether brain connectivity during rest is different in premanifest and manifest HD as compared to controls.

METHODS: At the Leiden University Medical Centre study site of the TRACK-HD study, 20 early HD patients (disease stages 1 and 2), 28 premanifest gene carriers and 28 healthy controls underwent 3 T MRI scanning. Standard and high-resolution T1-weighted images and a resting state fMRI scan were acquired. Using FSL, group differences in resting state connectivity were examined for eight networks of interest using a dual regression method. With a voxelwise correction for localised atrophy, group differences in functional connectivity were examined.

RESULTS: Brain connectivity of the left middle frontal and pre-central gyrus, and right post central gyrus with the medial visual network was reduced in premanifest and manifest HD as compared to controls (0.05 > p > 0.0001). In manifest HD connectivity of numerous widespread brain regions with the default mode network and the executive control network were reduced (0.05 > p > 0.0001).

DISCUSSION: Brain regions that show reduced intrinsic functional connectivity are present in premanifest gene carriers and to a much larger extent in manifest HD patients. These differences are present even when the potential influence of atrophy is taken into account. Resting state fMRI could potentially be used for early disease detection in the premanifest phase of HD and for monitoring of disease modifying compounds.

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