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Functional Neurology

Impact of cerebellar atrophy on cortical gray matter and cerebellar peduncles as assessed by voxel-based morphometry and high angular resolution diffusion imaging

Original Article, 239 - 248
doi: 10.11138/FNeur/2016.31.4.239
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In recent years the cerebellum has been attributed amore important role in higher-level functions than previously believed. We examined a cohort of patients suffering from cerebellar atrophy resulting in ataxia, with two main objectives: first to investigate which regions of the cerebrum were affected by the cerebellar degeneration, and second to assess whether diffusion magnetic resonance imaging (dMRI) metrics within the medial (MCP) and superior cerebellar peduncle (SCP) – namely fractional anisotropy (FA) and radial diffusivity (RD) – could be used as a biomarker in patients with this condition.
Structural and dMRI data of seven patients with cerebellar atrophy (2 with spinocerebellar atrophy type 2, 1 with Friedreich’s ataxia, 4 with idiopathic cerebellar ataxia) and no visible cortical lesions or cortical atrophy were investigated with Freesurfer and voxel-based morphometry (VBM) of gray matter (GM) as well as MCP and SCP FA maps. Correlations of MCP and SCP mean FA with ataxia scores and subscores were also evaluated. Freesurfer showed that patients had significantly reduced volume of the thalamus, ventral diencephalon and pallidum. VBM also demonstrated significantly lower local GM volumes in patients, notably in the head of the caudate nucleus, posterior cingulate gyrus and orbitofrontal cortex bilaterally, as well as in Broca’s area in the left hemisphere, and a significant increase in RD in the MCP and SCP of both hemispheres. A significant correlation was found between MCP mean FA and total ataxia score (R=−0.7, p=0.03), and subscores for kinetic functions (R=−0.74, p=0.03) and oculomotor disorders (R=−0.70, p=0.04).
The regions of the cerebrum found to have significantly lower local GM volumes have been described to be involved in higher-level cerebellar functions such as initiation of voluntary movements, emotional control, memory retrieval and general cognition. Our findings
corroborate recent research pointing to a more extensive corticocerebellar system than previously thought.
The significant difference in the MCP and SCP dMRI metrics between patients and controls as well as the significant correlation with ataxia total score and subscores support the use of dMRI metrics as an imaging biomarker for cerebellar degeneration and ataxia.

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