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Neurological Disorders - Neuroscience - Physiology - Radiology and Medical Imaging

Alterations in White Matter Microstructure in Neurofibromatosis-1
Published: Friday, October 19, 2012
Author: Katherine H. Karlsgodt et al.

by Katherine H. Karlsgodt, Tena Rosser, Evan S. Lutkenhoff, Tyrone D. Cannon, Alcino Silva, Carrie E. Bearden

Neurofibromatosis (NF1) represents the most common single gene cause of learning disabilities. NF1 patients have impairments in frontal lobe based cognitive functions such as attention, working memory, and inhibition. Due to its well–characterized genetic etiology, investigations of NF1 may shed light on neural mechanisms underlying such difficulties in the general population or other patient groups. Prior neuroimaging findings indicate global brain volume increases, consistent with neural over-proliferation. However, little is known about alterations in white matter microstructure in NF1. We performed diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) analyses using tract-based spatial statistics (TBSS) in 14 young adult NF1 patients and 12 healthy controls. We also examined brain volumetric measures in the same subjects. Consistent with prior studies, we found significantly increased overall gray and white matter volume in NF1 patients. Relative to healthy controls, NF1 patients showed widespread reductions in white matter integrity across the entire brain as reflected by decreased fractional anisotropy (FA) and significantly increased absolute diffusion (ADC). When radial and axial diffusion were examined we found pronounced differences in radial diffusion in NF1 patients, indicative of either decreased myelination or increased space between axons. Secondary analyses revealed that FA and radial diffusion effects were of greatest magnitude in the frontal lobe. Such alterations of white matter tracts connecting frontal regions could contribute to the observed cognitive deficits. Furthermore, although the cellular basis of these white matter microstructural alterations remains to be determined, our findings of disproportionately increased radial diffusion against a background of increased white matter volume suggest the novel hypothesis that one potential alteration contributing to increased cortical white matter in NF1 may be looser packing of axons, with or without myelination changes. Further, this indicates that axial and radial diffusivity can uniquely contribute as markers of NF1-associated brain pathology in conjunction with the typically investigated measures.