BACKGROUND: Huntington disease (HD) is an inherited neurodegenerative disorder most commonly manifesting in adulthood. Identification of biomarkers tracking neurodegeneration before the onset of motor symptoms is important for future interventional studies. Our study aimed to contribute in the phenotypic characterization of the premanifest HD phase.
METHODS: 28 premanifest subjects (preHD), 25 age-matched controls, and 12 manifest HD patients were enrolled for the study. The participants underwent a multimodal protocol including cognitive evaluations, arithmetic ability test, posturography, composite cerebellar functional test (CCFS), and brain 3T-MRI. PreHD were divided at the group median for predicted years to expected onset into "far-from-onset" (>15 years, PreHD-far), and "close-to-onset" (≤15 years, preHD-close). Basal ganglia volumes and cortical thickness were computed using FreeSurfer.
RESULTS: PreHD-close showed significantly lower scores than controls in Symbol Digit Modalities Test (p = 0.017), Arithmetic subtraction task (p = 0.04), and MMSE (p < 0.006). At posturography, preHD-close showed increased sway velocity (<0.04) and distance (p < 0.02) compared to controls. PreHD-close had reduced striatum and globus pallidus volumes and left occipital cortical thinning compared to controls. Compared to PreHD far-from-onset, PreHD-close showed bilateral cortical thinning in occipital and parahippocampal regions, inversely correlating with burden score and prognostic index for HD. CCFS only differed between controls and manifest HD. PreHD far-from-onset did not show significant differences in comparison with controls.
CONCLUSIONS: We confirmed that quantitative brain MRI represents a valid biomarker of neurodegeneration in preHD. Posturography and Arithmentic tests seem promising tools for detecting early changes in premanifest HD, but need to be further confirmed in large cohorts.