Early atrophy of pallidum and accumbens nucleus in Huntington's disease

J Neurol. 2011 Mar;258(3):412-20. doi: 10.1007/s00415-010-5768-0. Epub 2010 Oct 9.


In Huntington's disease (HD) atrophy of the caudate nucleus and putamen has been described many years before clinical manifestation. Volume changes of the pallidum, thalamus, brainstem, accumbens nucleus, hippocampus, and amygdala are less well investigated, or reported with contradicting results. The aim of our study is to provide a more precise view of the specific atrophy of the subcortical grey matter structures in different stages of Huntington's disease, and secondly to investigate how this influences the clinical manifestations. All TRACK-HD subjects underwent standardised T1-weighted 3T MRI scans encompassing 123 manifest HD (stage 1, n = 77; stage 2, n = 46), 120 premanifest HD (close to onset n = 58, far from onset n = 62) and 123 controls. Using FMRIB's FIRST and SIENAX tools the accumbens nucleus, amygdala, brainstem, caudate nucleus, hippocampus, pallidum, putamen, thalamus and whole brain volume were extracted. Results showed that volumes of the caudate nucleus and putamen were reduced in premanifest HD far from predicted onset (>10.8 years). Atrophy of accumbens nucleus and pallidum was apparent in premanifest HD in the close to onset group (0-10.8 years). All other structures were affected to some degree in the manifest group, although brainstem, thalamus and amygdala were relatively spared. The accumbens nucleus, putamen, pallidum and hippocampus had a strong significant correlation with functional and motor scores. We conclude that volume changes may be a sensitive and reliable measure for early disease detection and in this way serve as a biomarker for Huntington's disease. Besides the caudate nucleus and putamen, the pallidum and the accumbens nucleus show great potential in this respect.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Atrophy
  • Disease Progression*
  • Female
  • Globus Pallidus / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Huntington Disease / pathology*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nucleus Accumbens / pathology*
  • Time Factors
  • Young Adult