Differential Changes in Functional Connectivity of Striatum-Prefrontal and Striatum-Motor Circuits in Premanifest Huntington's Disease

Martin Kronenbuerger, Jun Hua, Jee Y.A. Bang, Kia E. Ultz, Xinyuan Miao, Xiaoyu Zhang, James J. Pekar, Peter C.M. Van Zijl, Wenzhen Duan, Russell L. Margolis, Christopher A. Ross

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Huntington's disease (HD) is a progressive neurodegenerative disorder. The striatum is one of the first brain regions that show detectable atrophy in HD. Previous studies using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) at 3 tesla (3 T) revealed reduced functional connectivity between striatum and motor cortex in the prodromal period of HD. Neuroanatomical and neurophysiological studies have suggested segregated corticostriatal pathways with distinct loops involving different cortical regions, which may be investigated using fMRI at an ultra-high field (7 T) with enhanced sensitivity compared to lower fields. Objectives: We performed fMRI at 7 T to assess functional connectivity between the striatum and several chosen cortical areas including the motor and prefrontal cortex, in order to better understand brain changes in the striatum-cortical pathways. Method: 13 manifest subjects (age 51 ± 13 years, cytosine-adenine-guanine [CAG] repeat 45 ± 5, Unified Huntington's Disease Rating Scale [UHDRS] motor score 32 ± 17), 8 subjects in the close-to-onset premanifest period (age 38 ± 10 years, CAG repeat 44 ± 2, UHDRS motor score 8 ± 2), 11 subjects in the far-from-onset premanifest period (age 38 ± 11 years, CAG repeat 42 ± 2, UHDRS motor score 1 ± 2), and 16 healthy controls (age 44 ± 15 years) were studied. The functional connectivity between the striatum and several cortical areas was measured by resting state fMRI at 7 T and analyzed in all participants. Results: Compared to controls, functional connectivity between striatum and premotor area, supplementary motor area, inferior frontal as well as middle frontal regions was altered in HD (all p values <0.001). Specifically, decreased striatum-motor connectivity but increased striatum-prefrontal connectivity were found in premanifest HD subjects. Altered functional connectivity correlated consistently with genetic burden, but not with clinical scores. Conclusions: Differential changes in functional connectivity of striatum-prefrontal and striatum-motor circuits can be found in early and premanifest HD. This may imply a compensatory mechanism, where additional cortical regions are recruited to subserve functions that have been impaired due to HD pathology. Our results suggest the potential value of functional connectivity as a marker for future clinical trials in HD.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)78-87
Number of pages10
JournalNeurodegenerative Diseases
Issue number2
StatePublished - Nov 1 2019


  • Chorea
  • Functional connectivity
  • Magnetic resonance imaging, 7 T
  • Prefrontal cortex
  • Premanifest period

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology


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