Whole brain-based analysis of regional white matter tract alterations in rare motor neuron diseases by diffusion tensor imaging

Hum Brain Mapp. 2010 Nov;31(11):1727-40. doi: 10.1002/hbm.20971.


Different motor neuron disorders (MNDs) are mainly defined by the clinical presentation based on the predominance of upper or lower motor neuron impairment and the course of the disease. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) mostly serves as a tool to exclude other pathologies, but novel approaches such as diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) have begun to add information on the underlying pathophysiological processes of these disorders in vivo. The present study was designed to investigate three different rare MNDs, i.e., primary lateral sclerosis (PLS, N = 25), hereditary spastic paraparesis (HSP, N = 24), and X-linked spinobulbar muscular atrophy (X-SBMA, N = 20), by use of whole-brain-based DTI analysis in comparison with matched controls. This analysis of white matter (WM) impairment revealed widespread and characteristic patterns of alterations within the motor system with a predominant deterioration of the corticospinal tract (CST) in HSP and PLS patients according to the clinical presentation and also in patients with X-SBMA to a lesser degree, but also WM changes in projections to the limbic system and within distinct areas of the corpus callosum (CC), the latter both for HSP and PLS. In summary, DTI was able to define a characteristic WM pathoanatomy in motor and extra-motor brain areas, such as the CC and the limbic projectional system, for different MNDs via whole brain-based FA assessment and quantitative fiber tracking. Future advanced MRI-based investigations might help to provide a fingerprint-identification of MNDs.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Anisotropy
  • Brain / pathology
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Diffusion Tensor Imaging
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Motor Neuron Disease / pathology
  • Motor Neuron Disease / physiopathology*
  • Muscular Disorders, Atrophic / pathology
  • Muscular Disorders, Atrophic / physiopathology*
  • Nerve Fibers, Myelinated / pathology
  • Nerve Fibers, Myelinated / physiology*
  • Spastic Paraplegia, Hereditary / pathology
  • Spastic Paraplegia, Hereditary / physiopathology*