OBJECTIVES: We investigated changes in gray matter (GM) and white matter (WM) in the whole brain, including both cortical and subcortical structures, and their relationship with tremor severity, psychiatric symptoms, and cognitive impairment in patients affected by essential tremor (ET).
METHODS: We studied 19 ET patients and 15 healthy subjects (HS). All the subjects underwent a 3-T MRI study based on 3D-T1 and diffusion tensor images. For the GM analysis, cortical thickness was assessed by using the Computational Anatomy Tool, basal ganglia and thalamus volumes by using the FMRIB software library, and cerebellum lobular volumes by using the spatial unbiased atlas template. For the WM assessment, we performed a voxel-wise analysis by means of tract-based spatial statistics. Patients' tremor severity and psychiatric and cognitive disorders were evaluated by means of standard clinical scales. Neuroimaging data were correlated with clinical scores.
RESULTS: We found significantly smaller right and left thalamic volumes in ET patients than in HS, which correlated with cognitive scores. We did not observe any significant differences either in cortical thickness or in cerebellar lobular volumes between patients and HS. WM abnormalities were detected in most hemisphere bundles, particularly in the corticospinal tract, cerebellar peduncles, and corpus callosum. The WM abnormalities significantly correlated with tremor severity, cognitive profile, and depression.
CONCLUSION: Our study indicates that ET is characterized by several GM and WM changes of both infra- and supratentorial brain structures. The results may help to better understand mechanisms underlying tremor severity and psychiatric and cognitive impairment in ET.
KEY POINTS: • We performed a comprehensive evaluation of gray and white matter in the same sample of patients with essential tremor using recently developed data analysis methods. • Essential tremor is characterized by widespread gray and white matter changes in both infra- and supratentorial brain structures. The results may help to better understand motor and non-motor symptoms in patients with essential tremor.