Apathy and atrophy of subcortical brain structures in Huntington's disease: A two-year follow-up study

Neuroimage Clin. 2018 Mar 27;19:66-70. doi: 10.1016/j.nicl.2018.03.033. eCollection 2018.


Background: Huntington's disease (HD) is characterized by motor and behavioral symptoms, and cognitive decline. HD gene carriers and their caregivers report the behavioral and cognitive symptoms as the most burdensome. Apathy is the most common behavioral symptom of HD and is related to clinical measures of disease progression, like functional capacity. However, it is unknown whether apathy is directly related to the neurodegenerative processes in HD.

Objective: The aim is to investigate whether an association between atrophy of subcortical structures and apathy is present in HD, at baseline and after 2 years follow-up.

Method: Volumes of 7 subcortical structures were measured using structural T1 MRI in 171 HD gene carriers of the TRACK-HD study and apathy was assessed with the Problem Behaviors Assessment-Short, at baseline and follow-up visit. At baseline, logistic regression was used to evaluate whether volumes of subcortical brain structures were associated with the presence of apathy. Linear regression was used to assess whether subcortical atrophy was associated with the degree of apathy at baseline and with an increase in severity of apathy over time.

Results: At baseline, smaller volume of the thalamus showed a higher probability of the presence of apathy in HD gene carriers, but none of the subcortical structures was associated with the degree of apathy. Over time, no association between atrophy of any subcortical structures and change in degree of apathy was found.

Conclusion: The presence of apathy is associated with atrophy of the thalamus in HD, suggesting that apathy has an underlying neural cause and might explain the high incidence of apathy in HD. However, no association was found between atrophy of these subcortical structures and increase in severity of apathy over a 2-year time period.

Keywords: Apathy; Huntington's disease; Subcortical structures; Thalamus.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Apathy / physiology*
  • Atrophy / pathology*
  • Atrophy / physiopathology
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Disease Progression
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Huntington Disease / genetics
  • Huntington Disease / pathology*
  • Huntington Disease / physiopathology
  • Logistic Models
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Middle Aged