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Diffusion Tensor Imaging in Preclinical and Human Studies of Huntington’s Disease: What Have we Learned so Far?

[ Vol. 15 , Issue. 6 ]


Rodolfo Gabriel Gatto* and Carina Weissmann   Pages 521 - 542 ( 22 )


Background: Huntington’s Disease is an irreversible neurodegenerative disease characterized by the progressive deterioration of specific brain nerve cells. The current evaluation of cellular and physiological events in patients with HD relies on the development of transgenic animal models. To explore such events in vivo, diffusion tensor imaging has been developed to examine the early macro and microstructural changes in brain tissue. However, the gap in diffusion tensor imaging findings between animal models and clinical studies and the lack of microstructural confirmation by histological methods has questioned the validity of this method.

Objective: This review explores white and grey matter ultrastructural changes associated to diffusion tensor imaging, as well as similarities and differences between preclinical and clinical Huntington’s Disease studies.

Methods: A comprehensive review of the literature using online-resources was performed (Pub- Med search).

Results: Similar changes in fractional anisotropy as well as axial, radial and mean diffusivities were observed in white matter tracts across clinical and animal studies. However, comparative diffusion alterations in different grey matter structures were inconsistent between clinical and animal studies.

Conclusion: Diffusion tensor imaging can be related to specific structural anomalies in specific cellular populations. However, some differences between animal and clinical studies could derive from the contrasting neuroanatomy or connectivity across species. Such differences should be considered before generalizing preclinical results into the clinical practice. Moreover, current limitations of this technique to accurately represent complex multicellular events at the single micro scale are real. Future work applying complex diffusion models should be considered.


Animal models, axonal degeneration, clinical studies, diffusion tensor imaging, Huntington’s disease, magnetic resonance imaging.


Department of Bioengineering, University of Illinois at Chicago, Chicago, IL, 60607, Insituto de Fisiología Biologia Molecular y Neurociencias-IFIBYNE-CONICET, University of Buenos Aires, Buenos Aires

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