March 3, 2021

Timing of selective basal ganglia white matter loss in Huntington’s disease

Objectives: To investigate the timeframe prior to symptom onset when cortico-basal ganglia white matter (WM) loss begins in premanifest Huntington’s disease (preHD), and which striatal and thalamic sub-region WM tracts are most vulnerable. Methods: We performed fixel-based analysis, which allows resolution of crossing WM fibres at the voxel level, on diffusion tractography derived WM tracts of striatal and thalamic sub-regions in two independent cohorts; TrackON-HD, which included 72 preHD (approx. 11 years before disease onset) and 85 controls imaged at three time points over two years; and the HD young adult study (HD-YAS), which included 54 preHD (approx. 25 years before disease onset) and 53 controls, imaged at one time point. Group differences in fibre density and cross section (FDC) were investigated. Results: We found no significant group differences in cortico-basal ganglia sub-region FDC in preHD gene carriers 25 years before onset. In gene carriers 11 years before onset, there were reductions in striatal (limbic and caudal motor) and thalamic (premotor, motor and sensory) FDC at baseline, with no significant change over 2 years. Caudal motor-striatal, pre-motor-thalamic, and primary motor-thalamic FDC at baseline, showed significant correlations with the Unified Huntington’s disease rating scale (UHDRS) total motor score (TMS). Limbic cortico-striatal FDC and apathy were also significantly correlated. Conclusions: Our findings suggest that the initiation of disease modifying therapies 25 years before onset could protect these important brain networks from undergoing neurodegeneration and highlight selectively vulnerable sub-regions of the striatum and thalamus that may be important targets for future therapies.

 bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience

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