Mutation-related magnetization-transfer, not axon density, drives white matter differences in premanifest Huntington disease: Evidence from in vivo ultra-strong gradient MRI

Chiara Casella, Maxime Chamberland, Pedro Laguna, Greg D Parker, Anne Rosser, Elizabeth Coulthard, Hugh Rickards, Samuel Berry, Derek K Jones, Claudia Metzler-Baddeley

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White matter (WM) alterations have been observed in Huntington disease (HD) but their role in the disease-pathophysiology remains unknown. We assessed WM changes in premanifest HD by exploiting ultra-strong-gradient magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This allowed to separately quantify magnetization transfer ratio (MTR) and hindered and restricted diffusion-weighted signal fractions, and assess how they drove WM microstructure differences between patients and controls. We used tractometry to investigate region-specific alterations across callosal segments with well-characterized early- and late-myelinating axon populations, while brain-wise differences were explored with tract-based cluster analysis (TBCA). Behavioral measures were included to explore disease-associated brain-function relationships. We detected lower MTR in patients' callosal rostrum (tractometry: p = .03; TBCA: p = .03), but higher MTR in their splenium (tractometry: p = .02). Importantly, patients' mutation-size and MTR were positively correlated (all p-values < .01), indicating that MTR alterations may directly result from the mutation. Further, MTR was higher in younger, but lower in older patients relative to controls (p = .003), suggesting that MTR increases are detrimental later in the disease. Finally, patients showed higher restricted diffusion signal fraction (FR) from the composite hindered and restricted model of diffusion (CHARMED) in the cortico-spinal tract (p = .03), which correlated positively with MTR in the posterior callosum (p = .033), potentially reflecting compensatory mechanisms. In summary, this first comprehensive, ultra-strong gradient MRI study in HD provides novel evidence of mutation-driven MTR alterations at the premanifest disease stage which may reflect neurodevelopmental changes in iron, myelin, or a combination of these.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)3439-3460
Number of pages22
JournalHuman Brain Mapping
Issue number11
Early online date9 Apr 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2022

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