Diffusion tensor imaging in presymptomatic and early Huntington's disease: Selective white matter pathology and its relationship to clinical measures

Mov Disord. 2006 Sep;21(9):1317-25. doi: 10.1002/mds.20979.


Atrophy of cortical and subcortical gray matter is apparent in Huntington's disease (HD) before symptoms manifest. We hypothesized that the white matter (WM) connecting cortical and subcortical regions must also be affected early and that select clinical symptoms were related to systems degeneration. We used diffusion tensor magnetic resonance imaging (DTI) to examine the regional nature of WM abnormalities in early HD, including the preclinical period, and to determine whether regional changes correlated with clinical features. We studied individuals in early stages (HD), presymptomatic individuals known to carry the genetic mutation that causes HD (Pre-HD), and matched healthy controls. DTI indices of tissue integrity were obtained from several regions of interest, including the corpus callosum (CC), internal capsule (IC), and basal ganglia, were compared across groups by t tests, and were correlated to cognitive and clinical measures. WM alterations were found throughout the CC, in the anterior and posterior limbs of the IC, and in frontal subcortical WM in HD subjects, supporting the selective involvement of the pyramidal tracts in HD; a similar distribution of changes was seen in Pre-HD subjects, supporting presymptomatic alterations. There was a significant relationship between select DTI measures and cognitive performance. Alterations in diffusion indices were also seen in the striatum that were independent of atrophy. Our findings support that WM alterations occur very early in HD. The distribution of the changes suggests that these changes contribute to the disruption of pyramidal and extrapyramidal circuits and also support a role of compromised cortical circuitry in early cognitive and subtle motor impairment during the preclinical stages of HD.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Atrophy
  • Basal Ganglia / pathology
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / pathology*
  • Corpus Callosum / pathology
  • Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Early Diagnosis
  • Extrapyramidal Tracts / pathology
  • Female
  • Frontal Lobe / pathology
  • Humans
  • Huntington Disease / diagnosis*
  • Huntington Disease / genetics
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted*
  • Internal Capsule / pathology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nerve Fibers, Myelinated / pathology*
  • Neural Pathways / pathology*
  • Neurologic Examination*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Parietal Lobe / pathology
  • Pyramidal Tracts / pathology