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Neuroimage. 2012 Oct 15;63(1):517-24. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2012.07.009. Epub 2012 Jul 14.

Increased brain tissue sodium concentration in Huntington's Disease - a sodium imaging study at 4 T.

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Institute of Neuroscience and Medicine (INM-4), Research Centre Jülich GmbH, Wilhelm-Johnen-Straße, 52428 Jülich, Germany.


The neuropathological hallmark of the autosomal dominantly inherited, neurodegenerative disorder Huntington's disease is progressive striatal loss starting several years prior to symptom manifestation. Magnetic resonance (MR) imaging has been widely used to detect altered structure in premanifest and early Huntington's disease. Given that neurodegeneration is likely preceded by substantial neuronal dysfunction, we used in vivo sodium MR imaging, which has been shown to be sensitive to cell death and viability, to investigate cellular and metabolic integrity of Huntington's disease brain tissue. We studied a total of thirteen healthy controls and thirteen Huntington's disease gene carriers (11 manifest and 2 premanifest). The manifest Huntington's disease group was subdivided into stages 1 and 2 according to their Total Functional Capacity scores. Clinical total motor and cognitive scores, as well as calibrated sodium and T1-weighted MR images were obtained with a 4 T Siemens MR scanner. Sodium images were acquired by means of a constant time imaging technique with an ultra-short "echo time". T1-weighted MR images were further analysed with voxel-based morphometry. The absolute total sodium concentration and grey matter values were measured in several Huntington's disease-specific and also non-specific areas. Statistical analysis of variance and Pearson correlation were applied. In Huntington's disease subjects, we found an increase of total sodium concentration of the entire brain compared to controls. Increased total sodium concentration values were found in structurally affected, but also in some non-affected, regions. The highest total sodium concentration values were found in the bilateral caudate, which was associated with caudate grey matter atrophy and CAG repeat length. In all Huntington's disease subjects we further found a profound increase of total sodium concentration in the putamen, pallidum, thalamus, hippocampus, insula, precuneus and occipital cortex compared to controls. No change of total sodium concentration was observed in the amygdala, pre- and postcentral gyrus, frontal and temporal cortices or in the cerebellum. This is the first in vivo sodium MR imaging study carried out on a 4 T MR scanner in Huntington's disease gene carriers demonstrating a significant enhancement in sodium concentration in the bilateral striatum, a key region in Huntington's disease, and also in other disease-related atrophic areas. Sodium MR imaging may provide a deeper insight into the pathophysiological mechanisms of tissue degeneration in Huntington's disease, presenting potential to detect changes preceding neurodegeneration.

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