Objectives: Visuospatial processing deficits have been reported in Huntington's disease (HD). To date, no study has examined associations between visuospatial cognition and posterior brain findings in HD.
Methods: We compared 119 premanifest (55> and 64<10.8 years to expected disease onset) and 104 early symptomatic (59 stage-1 and 45 stage-2) gene carriers, with 110 controls on visual search and mental rotation performance at baseline and 12 months. In the disease groups, we also examined associations between task performance and disease severity, functional capacity and structural brain measures.
Results: Cross-sectionally, there were strong differences between all disease groups and controls on visual search, and between diagnosed groups and controls on mental rotation accuracy. Only the premanifest participants close to onset took longer than controls to respond correctly to mental rotation. Visual search negatively correlated with disease burden and motor symptoms in diagnosed individuals, and positively correlated with functional capacity. Mental rotation ("same") was negatively correlated with motor symptoms in stage-2 individuals, and positively correlated with functional capacity. Visual search and mental rotation were associated with parieto-occipital (pre-/cuneus, calcarine, lingual) and temporal (posterior fusiform) volume and cortical thickness. Longitudinally, visual search deteriorated over 12 months in stage-2 individuals, with no evidence of declines in mental rotation.
Conclusions: Our findings provide evidence linking early visuospatial deficits to functioning and posterior cortical dysfunction in HD. The findings are important since large research efforts have focused on fronto-striatal mediated cognitive changes, with little attention given to aspects of cognition outside of these areas. (JINS, 2016, 22, 595-608).
Keywords: Basal ganglia; Cognition; Cortical thickness; MRI; Neurodegenerative disease; Occipital lobe; Parietal lobe; Voxel-based morphometry.