Mutations in the progranulin (PGRN) gene have been recently demonstrated as a cause of frontotemporal lobar degeneration (FTLD) with ubiquitin- immunoreactive neuronal inclusion (FTD-U). Neuropathologic, clinical, and neuroimaging features associated with PGRN mutations have been carefully described. No studies on asymptomatic subjects carrying pathogenetic PGRN mutations are available yet. These would be crucial for establishing the timing of brain changes and bringing new insight into disease pathogenesis and disease course. The aim of this study was to evaluate structural brain morphology using diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) and voxel-based morphometry (VBM) in asymptomatic carriers of PGRN delCACT mutation belonging to a four-generation FTLD pedigree (mean age, 37.0 ± 12.0). The evaluation of the family proband presenting with progressive nonfluent aphasia at 53 years of age, revealed left frontotemporal hypoperfusion and atrophy. VBM analysis of gray and white matter reductions revealed no differences between asymptomatic carriers (n = 7) and controls (n = 15), and between no-carriers (n = 10) and controls (p <0.001). DTI analysis revealed a reduction in fractional anisotropy in healthy PGRN mutation carriers in the left uncinate fasciculus, connecting the orbito-frontal regions to the temporal pole, and in the left inferior occipitofrontal fasciculus, connecting the parieto-occipital cortex to the dorsolateral frontal cortex (p <0.001). No significant difference in fractional anisotropy between no-carriers and controls was found. Our data indicate loss of white matter integrity as an early preclinical feature in familial FTD that might antedate the onset of specific neurologic features. Alteration of fiber tracts within the perisylvian language network might represent the early hallmark of subsequent aphasia onset. The study of other pedigrees of asymptomatic PGRN mutation carriers is warranted.
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