Tag: white matter

Significant White Matter Changes in Autism Revealed by MRI

Significant alterations in the brain’s white matter in adolescents with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Credit: RSNA and researcher, Clara Weber

Using specialised MRI, researchers found significant changes in the microstructure of the brain’s white matter, especially in the corpus callosum in adolescents and young adults with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) compared to controls. This research will be presented next week at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).

“One in 68 children in the U.S. is affected by ASD, but high variety in symptom manifestation and severity make it hard to recognise the condition early and monitor treatment response,” explained Clara Weber, postgraduate research fellow at Yale University School of Medicine. “We aim to find neuroimaging biomarkers that can potentially facilitate diagnosis and therapy planning.”

Researchers reviewed diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) brain scans from a large dataset of patients between the age of six months and 50 years. DTI is an MRI technique that measures connectivity in the brain by detecting how water moves along its white matter tracts. Water molecules diffuse differently through the brain, depending on the integrity, architecture and presence of barriers in tissue.

“If you think of gray matter as the computer, white matter is like the cables,” Weber said. “DTI helps us assess how connected and intact those cables are.”

For the study, clinical and DTI data from 583 patients from four existing studies of distinct patient populations were analysed: infants (median age 7 months), toddlers (median age 32 months), adolescents, and young adults.

“One of the strengths of our study is that we looked at a wide range of age groups, not just school-aged children,” Weber said.

To assess the influences of age and ASD diagnosis on white matter microstructure, the research team created fractional anisotropy, mean diffusivity and radial diffusivity maps using data from the four studies.

Fractional anisotropy is the extent water diffusion is restricted to just one direction. A value of zero means that diffusion is unrestricted in all directions, while one means that diffusion is unidirectional. Mean diffusivity is the overall mobility of water molecules, indicating how densely cells are packed together. Radial diffusivity is the extent water diffuses perpendicular to a white matter tract.

“When white matter integrity is disrupted, we see more water diffusing perpendicularly, which translates to a higher radial diffusivity,” Weber said.

The key finding of the analysis was reduced fractional anisotropy within the anterior/middle tracts of the corpus callosum in adolescent and young adult ASD patients compared to individuals in the control group. The corpus callosum is a thick bundle of nerve fibers that connects and allows the two sides of the brain to communicate. Corresponding increases in ASD-related mean diffusivity and radial diffusivity were found in young adults.

“In adolescents, we saw a significant influence of autism,” Weber said. “In adults, the effect was even more pronounced. Our results support the idea of impaired brain connectivity in autism, especially in tracts that connect both hemispheres.”

Compared to controls, no reduction in fractional anisotropy was seen in the same tracts in toddlers and infants with ASD.

The researchers hope the findings can help improve early diagnosis of ASD and provide potential objective biomarkers to monitor treatment response.

“We need to find more objective biomarkers for the disorder that can be applied in clinical practice,” Weber said.

Source: EurekAlert!

White Matter Changes Uncovered in Repeated Brain Injury

Photo by MART PRODUCTION from Pexels

A new study has uncovered insights into white matter changes that occur during chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE), a progressive brain disease associated with repetitive head impacts. This discovery may help in identifying new targets for therapies.

CTE been diagnosed after death in the brains of American football players and other contact sport athletes as well as members of the armed services. The disease has been identified as causing impulsivity, explosivity, depression, memory impairment and executive dysfunction.

Though much prior research focused on repetitive head trauma leading to the development of abnormal tau, this study focused on white matter changes, particularly the oligodendrocytes which myelinate nerve sheaths. The results have been published online [PDF] in the journal Acta Neuropathologica.

“Research to date has focused on the deposition of abnormal tau in the gray matter in CTE. This study shows that the white matter undergoes important alterations as well.  There is loss of oligodendrocytes and alteration of oligodendrocyte subtypes in CTE that might provide new targets for prevention and therapies,” explained corresponding author Ann McKee, MD, chief of neuropathology at VA Boston Healthcare, director of the BU CTE Center.

Dr McKee and her team isolated cellular nuclei from the postmortem dorsolateral frontal white matter in eight cases of CTE and eight matched controls. They conducted single-nucleus RNA-seq (snRNA-seq) with these nuclei, revealing transcriptomic, cell-type-specific differences between the CTE and control cases. In doing so, they discovered that the white matter in CTE had fewer oligodendrocytes and the oligodendroglial subtypes were altered compared to control tissue.

Since previous studies have largely focused on the CTE-specific tau lesion located in the cortex in the brain, these findings are particularly informative as they explain a number of features of the disease. “In comparison, the cellular death process occurring in white matter oligodendrocytes in CTE appears to be separate from the accumulation of hyperphosphorylated tau,” she said. “We know that the behavioural and mood changes that occur in CTE are not explained by tau deposition. This study suggests that white matter alterations are also important features of the disease, and future studies will determine whether these white matter changes play a role in the production of behavioral or mood symptoms in CTE, such as explosivity, violence, impulsivity, and depression.”

Source: Boston University School of Medicine

Journal information: Chancellor, K. B., et al. (2021) Altered oligodendroglia and astroglia in chronic traumatic Encephalopathy. Acta Neuropathologica. doi.org/10.1007/s00401-021-02322-2.