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Localized Changes in Dentate Nucleus Shape and Magnetic Susceptibility in Friedreich Ataxia.

BACKGROUND: The dentate nuclei of the cerebellum are key sites of neuropathology in Friedreich ataxia (FRDA). Reduced dentate nucleus volume and increased mean magnetic susceptibility, a proxy of iron concentration, have been reported by magnetic resonance imaging studies in people with FRDA. Here, we investigate whether these changes are regionally heterogeneous.

METHODS: Quantitative susceptibility mapping data were acquired from 49 people with FRDA and 46 healthy controls. The dentate nuclei were manually segmented and analyzed using three dimensional vertex-based shape modeling and voxel-based assessments to identify regional changes in morphometry and susceptibility, respectively.

RESULTS: Individuals with FRDA, relative to healthy controls, showed significant bilateral surface contraction most strongly at the rostral and caudal boundaries of the dentate nuclei. The magnitude of this surface contraction correlated with disease duration, and to a lesser extent, ataxia severity. Significantly greater susceptibility was also evident in the FRDA cohort relative to controls, but was instead localized to bilateral dorsomedial areas, and also correlated with disease duration and ataxia severity.

CONCLUSIONS: Changes in the structure of the dentate nuclei in FRDA are not spatially uniform. Atrophy is greatest in areas with high gray matter density, whereas increases in susceptibility-reflecting iron concentration, demyelination, and/or gliosis-predominate in the medial white matter. These findings converge with established histological reports and indicate that regional measures of dentate nucleus substructure are more sensitive measures of disease expression than full-structure averages. Biomarker development and therapeutic strategies that directly target the dentate nuclei, such as gene therapies, may be optimized by targeting these areas of maximal pathology. © 2024 The Authors. Movement Disorders published by Wiley Periodicals LLC on behalf of International Parkinson and Movement Disorder Society.

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