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Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) of multiple neural networks during the brain's ‘resting state’ could facilitate biomarker development in patients with Huntington's disease (HD) and may provide new insights into the relationship between neural dysfunction and clinical symptoms. To date, however, very few studies have examined the functional integrity of multiple resting state networks (RSNs) in manifest HD, and even less is known about whether concomitant brain atrophy affects neural activity in patients.
Using MRI, we investigated brain structure and RSN function in patients with early HD (n = 20) and healthy controls (n = 20). For resting-state fMRI data a group-independent component analysis identified spatiotemporally distinct patterns of motor and prefrontal RSNs of interest. We used voxel-based morphometry to assess regional brain atrophy, and ‘biological parametric mapping’ analyses to investigate the impact of atrophy on neural activity.
Compared with controls, patients showed connectivity changes within distinct neural systems including lateral prefrontal, supplementary motor, thalamic, cingulate, temporal and parietal regions. In patients, supplementary motor area and cingulate cortex connectivity indices were associated with measures of motor function, whereas lateral prefrontal connectivity was associated with cognition.
This study provides evidence for aberrant connectivity of RSNs associated with motor function and cognition in early manifest HD when controlling for brain atrophy. This suggests clinically relevant changes of RSN activity in the presence of HD-associated cortical and subcortical structural abnormalities.
Depressive symptoms are prominent psychopathological features of Huntington's disease (HD), making a negative impact on social functioning and well-being.
We compared the frequencies of a history of depression, previous suicide attempts and current subthreshold depression between 61 early-stage HD participants and 40 matched controls. The HD group was then split based on the overall HD group's median Hospital Anxiety and Depression Scale-depression score into a group of 30 non-depressed participants (mean 0.8, s.d. = 0.7) and a group of 31 participants with subthreshold depressive symptoms (mean 7.3, s.d. = 3.5) to explore the neuroanatomy underlying subthreshold depressive symptoms in HD using voxel-based morphometry (VBM) and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI).
Frequencies of history of depression, previous suicide attempts or current subthreshold depressive symptoms were higher in HD than in controls. The severity of current depressive symptoms was also higher in HD, but not associated with the severity of HD motor signs or disease burden. Compared with the non-depressed HD group DTI revealed lower fractional anisotropy (FA) values in the frontal cortex, anterior cingulate cortex, insula and cerebellum of the HD group with subthreshold depressive symptoms. In contrast, VBM measures were similar in both HD groups. A history of depression, the severity of HD motor signs or disease burden did not correlate with FA values of these regions.
Current subthreshold depressive symptoms in early HD are associated with microstructural changes – without concomitant brain volume loss – in brain regions known to be involved in major depressive disorder, but not those typically associated with HD pathology.
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