Huntington's disease (HD) is an inherited brain disorder characterized by progressive motor, cognitive, and behavioral dysfunctions. It is caused by abnormally large trinucleotide cytosine-adenine-guanine (CAG) repeat expansions on exon 1 of the Huntingtin gene. CAG repeat length (CAG-RL) inversely correlates with an earlier age of onset. Region-based studies have shown that HD gene mutation carrier (HDgmc) individuals (CAG-RL ≥36) present functional connectivity alterations in subcortical (SC) and default mode networks. In this analysis, we expand on previous HD studies by investigating associations between CAG-RL and connectivity in the whole brain, as well as between CAG-dependent connectivity and motor and cognitive performances. We used group-independent component analysis on resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging scans of 261 individuals (183 HDgmc and 78 healthy controls) from the PREDICT-HD study, to obtain whole-brain resting state networks (RSNs). Regression analysis was applied within and between RSNs connectivity (functional network connectivity [FNC]) to identify CAG-RL associations. Connectivity within the putamen RSN is negatively correlated with CAG-RL. The FNC between putamen and insula decreases with increasing CAG-RL, and also shows significant associations with motor and cognitive measures. The FNC between calcarine and middle frontal gyri increased with CAG-RL. In contrast, FNC in other visual (VIS) networks declined with increasing CAG-RL. In addition to observed effects in SC areas known to be related to HD, our study identifies a strong presence of alterations in VIS regions less commonly observed in previous reports and provides a step forward in understanding FNC dysfunction in HDgmc.
Keywords: CAG repeat length; group-independent component analysis; prodromal Huntington's disease; resting-state fMRI; within- and between-networks functional connectivity.