Huntington's Disease (HD) is a neurodegenerative disease caused by a CAG triplet-repeat expansion-mutation in the Huntingtin gene. Subjects at risk for HD can be identified by genetic testing in the prodromal phase. Structural changes of basal-ganglia nuclei such as the caudate nucleus are well-replicated findings observable early in prodromal-HD subjects and may be preceded by distinct functional alterations of cortico-striatal circuits. This study aims to assess functional integrity of the motor system as a cortico-striatal circuit with particular clinical relevance in HD. Ten subjects in the prodromal phase of HD and ten matched controls were administered blood oxygen level dependent (BOLD) functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) at rest (3T). Functional connectivity was measured as synchrony of BOLD activity between the caudate nucleus and thirteen cortical brain regions (seeds). Basal-ganglia volumes were assessed as established markers of disease progression in prodromal-HD. Linear regression analysis was performed to test for a relationship between structural changes and group differences in functional connectivity. Prodromal-HD subjects showed reduced BOLD synchrony between two seeds in the premotor cortex (BA6) and the caudate nucleus. While similar effect sizes could be observed for reduced basal-ganglia volumes and differences in functional connectivity, coefficients of determination indicate a moderate relationship between functional connectivity and striatal atrophy. Our data show reduced cortico-striatal functional connectivity at rest in prodromal-HD and suggest a relation to early structural brain changes. Additional longitudinal studies are necessary to elucidate the temporal relationship between functional alterations and earliest structural brain changes in prodromal-HD.
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