Brain Structural Features of Myotonic Dystrophy Type 1 and their Relationship with CTG Repeats

J Neuromuscul Dis. 2019;6(3):321-332. doi: 10.3233/JND-190397.


Background: Few adequately-powered studies have systematically evaluated brain morphology in adult-onset myotonic dystrophy type 1 (DM1).

Objective: The goal of the present study was to determine structural brain differences between individuals with and without adult-onset DM1 in a multi-site, case-controlled cohort. We also explored correlations between brain structure and CTG repeat length.

Methods: Neuroimaging data was acquired in 58 unaffected individuals (29 women) and 79 individuals with DM1 (50 women). CTG repeat length, expressed as estimated progenitor allele length (ePAL), was determined by small pool PCR. Statistical models were adjusted for age, sex, site, and intracranial volume (ICV).

Results: ICV was reduced in DM1 subjects compared with controls. Accounting for the difference in ICV, the DM1 group exhibited smaller volume in frontal grey and white matter, parietal grey matter as well as smaller volume of the corpus callosum, thalamus, putamen, and accumbens. In contrast, volumes of the hippocampus and amygdala were significantly larger in DM1. Greater ePAL was associated with lower volumes of the putamen, occipital grey matter, and thalamus. A positive ePAL association was observed for amygdala volume and cerebellar white matter.

Conclusions: Smaller ICV may be a marker of aberrant neurodevelopment in adult-onset DM1. Volumetric analysis revealed morphological differences, some associated with CTG repeat length, in structures with plausible links to key DM1 symptoms including cognitive deficits and excessive daytime somnolence. These data offer further insights into the basis of CNS disease in DM1, and highlight avenues for further work to identify therapeutic targets and imaging biomarkers.

Keywords: Myotonic dystrophy; magnetic resonance imaging; neuroanatomy.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Myotonic Dystrophy / genetics*
  • Myotonic Dystrophy / pathology*
  • Sex Factors
  • Trinucleotide Repeat Expansion*