Fragile X-associated tremor/ataxia syndrome is a neurodegenerative disorder that primarily affects older male premutation carriers of the fragile X mental retardation gene. Although its core symptoms are mainly characterized by motor problems such as intention tremor and gait ataxia, cognitive decline and psychiatric problems are also commonly observed. Past radiological and histological approaches have focused on prominent neurodegenerative changes in specific brain structures including the cerebellum and limbic areas. However, quantitative investigations of the regional structural abnormalities have not been performed over the whole brain. In this study, we adopted the voxel-based morphometry method together with regions of interest analysis for the cerebellum to examine the pattern of regional grey matter change in the male premutation carriers with and without fragile X-associated tremor/ataxia syndrome. In a comparison with healthy controls, we found striking grey matter loss of the patients with fragile X-associated tremor/ataxia syndrome in multiple regions over the cortical and subcortical structures. In the cerebellum, the anterior lobe and the superior posterior lobe were profoundly reduced in both vermis and hemispheres. In the cerebral cortex, clusters of highly significant grey matter reduction were found in the extended areas in the medial surface of the brain, including the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, anterior cingulate cortex and precuneus. The other prominent grey matter loss was found in the lateral prefrontal cortex, orbitofrontal cortex, amygdala and insula. Although the voxel-wise comparison between the asymptomatic premutation group and healthy controls did not reach significant difference, a regions of interest analysis revealed significant grey matter reduction in anterior subregions of the cerebellar vermis and hemisphere in the asymptomatic premutation group. Correlation analyses using behavioural scales of the premutation groups showed significant associations between grey matter loss in the left amygdala and increased levels of obsessive-compulsiveness and depression, and between decreased grey matter in the left inferior frontal cortex and anterior cingulate cortex and poor working memory performance. Furthermore, regression analyses revealed a significant negative effect of CGG repeat size on grey matter density in the dorsomedial frontal regions. A significant negative correlation with the clinical scale for the severity of fragile X-associated tremor/ataxia syndrome was found in a part of the vermis. These observations reveal the anatomical patterns of the neurodegenerative process that underlie the motor, cognitive and psychiatric problems of fragile X-associated tremor/ataxia syndrome, together with incipient structural abnormalities that may occur before the clinical onset of this disease.
- fragile X-associated tremor/ataxia syndrome
- movement disorder
- voxel based morphometry
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Clinical Neurology