Importance: Presymptomatic carriers of chromosome 9 open reading frame 72 (C9orf72) mutation, the most frequent genetic cause of frontotemporal lobar degeneration and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, represent the optimal target population for the development of disease-modifying drugs. Preclinical biomarkers are needed to monitor the effect of therapeutic interventions in this population.
Objectives: To assess the occurrence of cognitive, structural, and microstructural changes in presymptomatic C9orf72 carriers.
Design, setting, and participants: The PREV-DEMALS study is a prospective, multicenter, observational study of first-degree relatives of individuals carrying the C9orf72 mutation. Eighty-four participants entered the study between October 2015 and April 2017; 80 (95%) were included in cross-sectional analyses of baseline data. All participants underwent neuropsychological testing and magnetic resonance imaging; 63 (79%) underwent diffusion tensor magnetic resonance imaging. Gray matter volumes and diffusion tensor imaging metrics were calculated within regions of interest. Anatomical and microstructural differences between individuals who carried the C9orf72 mutation (C9+) and those who did not carry the C9orf72 mutation (C9-) were assessed using linear mixed-effects models. Data were analyzed from October 2015 to April 2017.
Main outcomes and measures: Differences in neuropsychological scores, gray matter volume, and white matter integrity between C9+ and C9- individuals.
Results: Of the 80 included participants, there were 41 C9+ individuals (24 [59%] female; mean [SD] age, 39.8 [11.1] years) and 39 C9- individuals (24 [62%] female; mean [SD] age, 45.2 [13.9] years). Compared with C9- individuals, C9+ individuals had lower mean (SD) praxis scores (163.4 [6.1] vs 165.3 [5.9]; P = .01) and intransitive gesture scores (34.9 [1.6] vs 35.7 [1.5]; P = .004), atrophy in 8 cortical regions of interest and in the right thalamus, and white matter alterations in 8 tracts. When restricting the analyses to participants younger than 40 years, compared with C9- individuals, C9+ individuals had lower praxis scores and intransitive gesture scores, atrophy in 4 cortical regions of interest and in the right thalamus, and white matter alterations in 2 tracts.
Conclusions and relevance: Cognitive, structural, and microstructural alterations are detectable in young C9+ individuals. Early and subtle praxis alterations, underpinned by focal atrophy of the left supramarginal gyrus, may represent an early and nonevolving phenotype related to neurodevelopmental effects of C9orf72 mutation. White matter alterations reflect the future phenotype of frontotemporal lobar degeneration/amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, while atrophy appears more diffuse. Our results contribute to a better understanding of the preclinical phase of C9orf72 disease and of the respective contribution of magnetic resonance biomarkers.
Trial registration: clinicaltrials.gov Identifier: NCT02590276.