In this study we longitudinally investigated the rate of microstructural alterations in the occipital cortex in different stages of Huntington's disease (HD) by applying an automated atlas-based approach to diffusion MRI data. Twenty-two premanifest (preHD), 10 early manifest HD (early HD) and 24 healthy control subjects completed baseline and two year follow-up scans. The preHD group was stratified based on the predicted years to disease onset into a far (preHD-A) and near (preHD-B) to disease onset group. Clinical and behavioral measures were collected per assessment time point. An automated atlas-based DTI analysis approach was used to obtain the mean, axial and radial diffusivities of the occipital cortex. We found that the longitudinal rate of diffusivity change in the superior occipital gyrus (SOG), middle occipital gyrus (MOG), and inferior occipital gyrus (IOG) was significantly higher in early HD compared to both preHD and controls (all p's ≤ 0.005), which can be interpreted as an increased rate of microstructural degeneration. Furthermore, the change rate in the diffusivity of the MOG could significantly discriminate between preHD-B compared to preHD-A and the other groups (all p's ≤ 0.04). Finally, we found an inverse correlation between the Stroop Word Reading task and diffusivities in the SOG and MOG (all p's ≤ 0.01). These findings suggest that measures obtained from the occipital cortex can serve as sensitive longitudinal biomarkers for disease progression in preHD-B and early HD. These could in turn be used to assess potential effects of proposed disease modifying therapies.
Keywords: Diffusion tensor imaging; Huntington’s disease; Longitudinal biomarker; Occipital cortex; Premanifest.