Preserved thenar muscles in non-ambulant Duchenne muscular dystrophy patients

J Cachexia Sarcopenia Muscle. 2021 Jun;12(3):694-703. doi: 10.1002/jcsm.12711. Epub 2021 May 8.


Background: Clinical trials in Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) focus primarily on ambulant patients. Results cannot be extrapolated to later disease stages due to a decline in targeted muscle tissue. In non-ambulant DMD patients, hand function is relatively preserved and crucial for daily-life activities. We used quantitative MRI (qMRI) to establish whether the thenar muscles could be valuable to monitor treatment effects in non-ambulant DMD patients.

Methods: Seventeen non-ambulant DMD patients (range 10.2-24.1 years) and 13 healthy controls (range 9.5-25.4 years) underwent qMRI of the right hand at 3 T at baseline. Thenar fat fraction (FF), total volume (TV), and contractile volume (CV) were determined using 4-point Dixon, and T2water was determined using multiecho spin-echo. Clinical assessments at baseline (n = 17) and 12 months (n = 13) included pinch strength (kg), performance of the upper limb (PUL) 2.0, DMD upper limb patient reported outcome measure (PROM), and playing a video game for 10 min using a game controller. Group differences and correlations were assessed with non-parametric tests.

Results: Total volume was lower in patients compared with healthy controls (6.9 cm3 , 5.3-9.0 cm3 vs. 13.0 cm3 , 7.6-15.8 cm3 , P = 0.010). CV was also lower in patients (6.3 cm3 , 4.6-8.3 cm3 vs. 11.9 cm3 , 6.9-14.6 cm3 , P = 0.010). FF was slightly elevated (9.7%, 7.3-11.4% vs. 7.7%, 6.6-8.4%, P = 0.043), while T2water was higher (31.5 ms, 30.0-32.6 ms vs. 28.1 ms, 27.8-29.4 ms, P < 0.001). Pinch strength and PUL decreased over 12 months (2.857 kg, 2.137-4.010 to 2.243 kg, 1.930-3.339 kg, and 29 points, 20-36 to 23 points, 17-30, both P < 0.001), while PROM did not (49 points, 36-57 to 44 points, 30-54, P = 0.041). All patients were able to play for 10 min at baseline or follow-up, but some did not comply with the study procedures regarding this endpoint. Pinch strength correlated with TV and CV in patients (rho = 0.72 and rho = 0.68) and controls (both rho = 0.89). PUL correlated with TV, CV, and T2water (rho = 0.57, rho = 0.51, and rho = -0.59).

Conclusions: Low thenar FF, increased T2water , correlation of muscle size with strength and function, and the decrease in strength and function over 1 year indicate that the thenar muscles are a valuable and quantifiable target for therapy in later stages of DMD. Further studies are needed to relate these data to the loss of a clinically meaningful milestone.

Keywords: Duchenne muscular dystrophy; MRI; Target for muscle treatment; Thenar muscles.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't