Influences of RASopathies on Neuroanatomical Variation in Children

Biol Psychiatry Cogn Neurosci Neuroimaging. 2024 Apr 15:S2451-9022(24)00103-4. doi: 10.1016/j.bpsc.2024.04.003. Online ahead of print.


Background: RASopathies are a group of disorders characterized by pathogenic mutations in the Ras/mitogen-activated protein kinase (Ras/MAPK) signaling pathway. Distinct pathogenic variants in genes encoding proteins in the Ras/MAPK pathway cause Noonan syndrome (NS) and neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1), which are associated with increased risk for autism spectrum disorder and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder.

Methods: This study examined the effect of RASopathies (NS and NF1) on human neuroanatomy, specifically on surface area (SA), cortical thickness (CT), and subcortical volumes. Using vertex-based analysis for cortical measures and Desikan region of interest parcellation for subcortical volumes, we compared structural T1-weighted images of children with RASopathies (n = 91, mean age = 8.81 years, SD = 2.12) to those of sex- and age-matched typically developing children (n = 74, mean age = 9.07 years, SD = 1.77).

Results: Compared with typically developing children, RASopathies had convergent effects on SA and CT, exhibiting increased SA in the precentral gyrus, decreased SA in occipital regions, and thinner CT in the precentral gyrus. RASopathies exhibited divergent effects on subcortical volumes, with syndrome-specific influences from NS and NF1. Overall, children with NS showed decreased volumes in striatal and thalamic structures, and children with NF1 displayed increased volumes in the hippocampus, amygdala, and thalamus.

Conclusions: Our study reveals the converging and diverging neuroanatomical effects of RASopathies on human neurodevelopment. The convergence of cortical effects on SA and CT indicates a shared influence of Ras/MAPK hyperactivation on the human brain. Therefore, considering these measures as objective outcome indicators for targeted treatments is imperative.

Keywords: Neuroanatomical; Neurofibromatosis type 1; Neuroimaging; Noonan syndrome; RASopathies.