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Mov Disord. 2011 Aug 1;26(9):1691-7. doi: 10.1002/mds.23762. Epub 2011 May 24.

A tale of two factors: what determines the rate of progression in Huntington's disease? A longitudinal MRI study.

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  • 1Department of Neurology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Charlestown, Massachusetts, USA.


Over the past several years, increased attention has been devoted to understanding regionally selective brain changes that occur in Huntington's disease and their relationships to phenotypic variability. Clinical progression is also heterogeneous, and although CAG repeat length influences age of onset, its role, if any, in progression has been less clear. We evaluated progression in Huntington's disease using a novel longitudinal magnetic resonance imaging analysis. Our hypothesis was that the rate of brain atrophy is influenced by the age of onset of Huntington's disease. We scanned 22 patients with Huntington's disease at approximately 1-year intervals; individuals were divided into 1 of 3 groups, determined by the relative age of onset. We found significant differences in the rates of atrophy of cortex, white matter, and subcortical structures; patients who developed symptoms earlier demonstrated the most rapid rates of atrophy compared with those who developed symptoms during middle age or more advanced age. Rates of cortical atrophy were topologically variable, with the most rapid changes occurring in sensorimotor, posterior frontal, and portions of the parietal cortex. There were no significant differences in the rates of atrophy in basal ganglia structures. Although both CAG repeat length and age influenced the rate of change in some regions, there was no significant correlation in many regions. Rates of regional brain atrophy seem to be influenced by the age of onset of Huntington's disease symptoms and are only partially explained by CAG repeat length. These findings suggest that other genetic, epigenetic, and environmental factors play important roles in neurodegeneration in Huntington's disease.

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