Genotype-associated cerebellar profiles in ALS: focal cerebellar pathology and cerebro-cerebellar connectivity alterations

Objective

Cerebellar disease burden and cerebro-cerebellar connectivity alterations are poorly characterised in amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) despite the likely contribution of cerebellar pathology to the clinical heterogeneity of the condition.

Methods

A prospective imaging study has been undertaken with 271 participants to systematically evaluate cerebellar grey and white matter alterations, cerebellar peduncle integrity and cerebro-cerebellar connectivity in ALS. Participants were stratified into four groups: (1) patients testing positive for GGGGCC repeat expansions in C9orf72, (2) patients carrying an intermediate-length repeat expansion in ATXN2, (3) patients without established ALS-associated mutations and (4) healthy controls. Additionally, the cerebellar profile of a single patient with ALS who had an ATXN2 allele length of 62 was evaluated. Cortical thickness, grey matter and white matter volumes were calculated in each cerebellar lobule complemented by morphometric analyses to characterise genotype-associated atrophy patterns. A Bayesian segmentation algorithm was used for superior cerebellar peduncle volumetry. White matter diffusivity parameters were appraised both within the cerebellum and in the cerebellar peduncles. Cerebro-cerebellar connectivity was assessed using deterministic tractography.

Results

Cerebellar pathology was confined to lobules I–V of the anterior lobe in patients with sporadic ALS in contrast to the considerable posterior lobe and vermis disease burden identified in C9orf72 mutation carriers. Patients with intermediate ATXN2 expansions did not exhibit significant cerebellar pathology.

Conclusions

Focal rather than global cerebellar degeneration characterises ALS. Pathognomonic ALS symptoms which are typically attributed to other anatomical regions, such as dysarthria, dysphagia, pseudobulbar affect, eye movement abnormalities and cognitive deficits, may be modulated, exacerbated or partially driven by cerebellar changes in ALS.

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