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Concept: White matter

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Objectives To investigate whether moderate alcohol consumption has a favourable or adverse association or no association with brain structure and function.Design Observational cohort study with weekly alcohol intake and cognitive performance measured repeatedly over 30 years (1985-2015). Multimodal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was performed at study endpoint (2012-15).Setting Community dwelling adults enrolled in the Whitehall II cohort based in the UK (the Whitehall II imaging substudy).Participants 550 men and women with mean age 43.0 (SD 5.4) at study baseline, none were “alcohol dependent” according to the CAGE screening questionnaire, and all safe to undergo MRI of the brain at follow-up. Twenty three were excluded because of incomplete or poor quality imaging data or gross structural abnormality (such as a brain cyst) or incomplete alcohol use, sociodemographic, health, or cognitive data.Main outcome measures Structural brain measures included hippocampal atrophy, grey matter density, and white matter microstructure. Functional measures included cognitive decline over the study and cross sectional cognitive performance at the time of scanning.Results Higher alcohol consumption over the 30 year follow-up was associated with increased odds of hippocampal atrophy in a dose dependent fashion. While those consuming over 30 units a week were at the highest risk compared with abstainers (odds ratio 5.8, 95% confidence interval 1.8 to 18.6; P≤0.001), even those drinking moderately (14-21 units/week) had three times the odds of right sided hippocampal atrophy (3.4, 1.4 to 8.1; P=0.007). There was no protective effect of light drinking (1-<7 units/week) over abstinence. Higher alcohol use was also associated with differences in corpus callosum microstructure and faster decline in lexical fluency. No association was found with cross sectional cognitive performance or longitudinal changes in semantic fluency or word recall.Conclusions Alcohol consumption, even at moderate levels, is associated with adverse brain outcomes including hippocampal atrophy. These results support the recent reduction in alcohol guidance in the UK and question the current limits recommended in the US.

Concepts: White matter, Corpus callosum, Cognition, Longitudinal study, Cerebrum, Epidemiology, Magnetic resonance imaging, Brain

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Sensory input evokes low-order reflexes and higher-order perceptual responses. Vestibular stimulation elicits vestibular-ocular reflex (VOR) and self-motion perception (e.g., vertigo) whose response durations are normally equal. Adaptation to repeated whole-body rotations, for example, ballet training, is known to reduce vestibular responses. We investigated the neuroanatomical correlates of vestibular perceptuo-reflex adaptation in ballet dancers and controls. Dancers' vestibular-reflex and perceptual responses to whole-body yaw-plane step rotations were: (1) Briefer and (2) uncorrelated (controls' reflex and perception were correlated). Voxel-based morphometry showed a selective gray matter (GM) reduction in dancers' vestibular cerebellum correlating with ballet experience. Dancers' vestibular cerebellar GM density reduction was related to shorter perceptual responses (i.e. positively correlated) but longer VOR duration (negatively correlated). Contrastingly, controls' vestibular cerebellar GM density negatively correlated with perception and VOR. Diffusion-tensor imaging showed that cerebral cortex white matter (WM) microstructure correlated with vestibular perception but only in controls. In summary, dancers display vestibular perceptuo-reflex dissociation with the neuronatomical correlate localized to the vestibular cerebellum. Controls' robust vestibular perception correlated with a cortical WM network conspicuously absent in dancers. Since primary vestibular afferents synapse in the vestibular cerebellum, we speculate that a cerebellar gating of perceptual signals to cortical regions mediates the training-related attenuation of vestibular perception and perceptuo-reflex uncoupling.

Concepts: Sense, White matter, Human brain, Neuron, Brain, Neuroanatomy, Cerebellum, Cerebral cortex

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The corpus callosum is the major axon tract that connects and integrates neural activity between the two cerebral hemispheres. Although ∼1:4,000 children are born with developmental absence of the corpus callosum, the primary etiology of this condition remains unknown. Here, we demonstrate that midline crossing of callosal axons is dependent upon the prior remodeling and degradation of the intervening interhemispheric fissure. This remodeling event is initiated by astroglia on either side of the interhemispheric fissure, which intercalate with one another and degrade the intervening leptomeninges. Callosal axons then preferentially extend over these specialized astroglial cells to cross the midline. A key regulatory step in interhemispheric remodeling is the differentiation of these astroglia from radial glia, which is initiated by Fgf8 signaling to downstream Nfi transcription factors. Crucially, our findings from human neuroimaging studies reveal that developmental defects in interhemispheric remodeling are likely to be a primary etiology underlying human callosal agenesis.

Concepts: Radial glia, Nervous system, Neuron, White matter, Agenesis of the corpus callosum, Corpus callosum, Cerebrum, Cerebral hemisphere

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Hair-pulling disorder (trichotillomania, HPD) is a disabling condition that is characterized by repetitive hair-pulling resulting in hair loss. Although there is evidence of structural grey matter abnormalities in HPD, there is a paucity of data on white matter integrity. The aim of this study was to explore white matter integrity using diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) in subjects with HPD and healthy controls. Sixteen adult female subjects with HPD and 13 healthy female controls underwent DTI. Hair-pulling symptom severity, anxiety and depressive symptoms were also assessed. Tract-based spatial statistics were used to analyze data on fractional anisotropy (FA), mean diffusivity (MD), axial diffusivity (AD) and radial diffusivity (RD). There were no differences in DTI measures between HPD subjects and healthy controls. However, there were significant associations of increased MD in white matter tracts of the fronto-striatal-thalamic pathway with longer HPD duration and increased HPD severity. Our findings suggest that white matter integrity in fronto-striatal-thalamic pathways in HPD is related to symptom duration and severity. The molecular basis of measures of white matter integrity in HPD deserves further exploration.

Concepts: Symptom, Anxiety, Tensors, Statistics, Imaging, Symptoms, White matter, Diffusion MRI

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The exact underlying pathomechanism of central sleep apnea with Cheyne-Stokes respiration (CSA-CSR) is still unclear. Recent studies have demonstrated an association between cerebral white matter changes and CSA. A dysfunction of central respiratory control centers in the brainstem was suggested by some authors. Novel MR-imaging analysis tools now allow far more subtle assessment of microstructural cerebral changes. The aim of this study was to investigate whether and what severity of subtle structural cerebral changes could lead to CSA-CSR, and whether there is a specific pattern of neurodegenerative changes that cause CSR. Therefore, we examined patients with Fabry disease (FD), an inherited, lysosomal storage disease. White matter lesions are early and frequent findings in FD. Thus, FD can serve as a “model disease” of cerebral microangiopathy to study in more detail the impact of cerebral lesions on central sleep apnea.

Concepts: Sleep, Respiratory physiology, Abnormal respiration, Respiration, Apnea, Sleep apnea, Lysosomal storage disease, White matter

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In the setting of profound ocular blindness, numerous lines of evidence demonstrate the existence of dramatic anatomical and functional changes within the brain. However, previous studies based on a variety of distinct measures have often provided inconsistent findings. To help reconcile this issue, we used a multimodal magnetic resonance (MR)-based imaging approach to provide complementary structural and functional information regarding this neuroplastic reorganization. This included gray matter structural morphometry, high angular resolution diffusion imaging (HARDI) of white matter connectivity and integrity, and resting state functional connectivity MRI (rsfcMRI) analysis. When comparing the brains of early blind individuals to sighted controls, we found evidence of co-occurring decreases in cortical volume and cortical thickness within visual processing areas of the occipital and temporal cortices respectively. Increases in cortical volume in the early blind were evident within regions of parietal cortex. Investigating white matter connections using HARDI revealed patterns of increased and decreased connectivity when comparing both groups. In the blind, increased white matter connectivity (indexed by increased fiber number) was predominantly left-lateralized, including between frontal and temporal areas implicated with language processing. Decreases in structural connectivity were evident involving frontal and somatosensory regions as well as between occipital and cingulate cortices. Differences in white matter integrity (as indexed by quantitative anisotropy, or QA) were also in general agreement with observed pattern changes in the number of white matter fibers. Analysis of resting state sequences showed evidence of both increased and decreased functional connectivity in the blind compared to sighted controls. Specifically, increased connectivity was evident between temporal and inferior frontal areas. Decreases in functional connectivity were observed between occipital and frontal and somatosensory-motor areas and between temporal (mainly fusiform and parahippocampus) and parietal, frontal, and other temporal areas. Correlations in white matter connectivity and functional connectivity observed between early blind and sighted controls showed an overall high degree of association. However, comparing the relative changes in white matter and functional connectivity between early blind and sighted controls did not show a significant correlation. In summary, these findings provide complimentary evidence, as well as highlight potential contradictions, regarding the nature of regional and large scale neuroplastic reorganization resulting from early onset blindness.

Concepts: Lobes of the brain, Frontal lobe, White matter, Skull, Magnetic resonance imaging, Cerebral cortex, Snake scales, Cerebrum

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Woodpeckers experience forces up to 1200-1400 g while pecking. It is assumed due to evolutionary adaptations, the woodpecker is immune to brain injury. This assumption has led to the use of the woodpecker as a model in the development of sports safety equipment such as football helmets. However, it is unknown at this time if the woodpecker brain develops neuro-trauma in relation to the high g-forces experienced during pecking. The brains of 10 ethanol preserved woodpeckers and 5 ethanol preserved red-winged black bird experimental controls were examined using Gallyas silver stain and anti-phospho-tau. The results demonstrated perivascular and white matter tract silver-positive deposits in eight out of the 10 woodpecker brains. The tau positive accumulations were seen in white matter tracts in 2 of the 3 woodpeckers examined. No staining was identified in control birds. The negative staining of controls birds contrasted with the diffuse positive staining woodpecker sections suggest the possibility that pecking may induce the accumulation of tau in the woodpecker brain. Further research is needed to better understand the relationship.

Concepts: Silver stain, Phosphotungstic acid, Negative stain, Traumatic brain injury, White matter, Woodpecker, Bird, Staining

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Quantifying the microstructural properties of the human brain’s connections is necessary for understanding normal ageing and disease. Here we examine brain white matter magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data in 3,513 generally healthy people aged 44.64-77.12 years from the UK Biobank. Using conventional water diffusion measures and newer, rarely studied indices from neurite orientation dispersion and density imaging, we document large age associations with white matter microstructure. Mean diffusivity is the most age-sensitive measure, with negative age associations strongest in the thalamic radiation and association fibres. White matter microstructure across brain tracts becomes increasingly correlated in older age. This may reflect an age-related aggregation of systemic detrimental effects. We report several other novel results, including age associations with hemisphere and sex, and comparative volumetric MRI analyses. Results from this unusually large, single-scanner sample provide one of the most extensive characterizations of age associations with major white matter tracts in the human brain.

Concepts: Neuroanatomy, White matter, Nuclear magnetic resonance, Cerebellum, Brain tumor, Diffusion MRI, Magnetic resonance imaging, Brain

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Purpose To examine the effects of subconcussive impacts resulting from a single season of youth (age range, 8-13 years) football on changes in specific white matter (WM) tracts as detected with diffusion-tensor imaging in the absence of clinically diagnosed concussions. Materials and Methods Head impact data were recorded by using the Head Impact Telemetry system and quantified as the combined-probability risk-weighted cumulative exposure (RWECP). Twenty-five male participants were evaluated for seasonal fractional anisotropy (FA) changes in specific WM tracts: the inferior fronto-occipital fasciculus (IFOF), inferior longitudinal fasciculus, and superior longitudinal fasciculus (SLF). Fiber tracts were segmented into a central core and two fiber terminals. The relationship between seasonal FA change in the whole fiber, central core, and the fiber terminals with RWECP was also investigated. Linear regression analysis was conducted to determine the association between RWECP and change in fiber tract FA during the season. Results There were statistically significant linear relationships between RWEcp and decreased FA in the whole (R(2) = 0.433; P = .003), core (R(2) = 0.3649; P = .007), and terminals (R(2) = 0.5666; P < .001) of left IFOF. A trend toward statistical significance (P = .08) in right SLF was observed. A statistically significant correlation between decrease in FA of the right SLF terminal and RWECP was also observed (R(2) = 0.2893; P = .028). Conclusion This study found a statistically significant relationship between head impact exposure and change of FA fractional anisotropy value of whole, core, and terminals of left IFOF and right SLF's terminals where WM and gray matter intersect, in the absence of a clinically diagnosed concussion. (©) RSNA, 2016.

Concepts: Political spectrum, Left-wing politics, White matter, Linear regression, Statistical hypothesis testing, Statistical significance, Statistics, Regression analysis

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Accumulating mental-health research encourages a shift in focus toward transdiagnostic dimensional features that are shared across categorical disorders. In support of this shift, recent studies have identified a general liability factor for psychopathology-sometimes called the ‘p factor’- that underlies shared risk for a wide range of mental disorders. Identifying neural correlates of this general liability would substantiate its importance in characterizing the shared origins of mental disorders and help us begin to understand the mechanisms through which the ‘p factor’ contributes to risk. Here we believe we first replicate the ‘p factor’ using cross-sectional data from a volunteer sample of 1246 university students, and then using high-resolution multimodal structural neuroimaging, we demonstrate that individuals with higher ‘p factor’ scores show reduced structural integrity of white matter pathways, as indexed by lower fractional anisotropy values, uniquely within the pons. Whole-brain analyses further revealed that higher ‘p factor’ scores are associated with reduced gray matter volume in the occipital lobe and left cerebellar lobule VIIb, which is functionally connected with prefrontal regions supporting cognitive control. Consistent with the preponderance of cerebellar afferents within the pons, we observed a significant positive correlation between the white matter integrity of the pons and cerebellar gray matter volume associated with higher ‘p factor’ scores. The results of our analyses provide initial evidence that structural alterations in corticocerebellar circuitry supporting core functions related to the basic integration, coordination and monitoring of information may contribute to a general liability for common mental disorders.Molecular Psychiatry advance online publication, 11 April 2017; doi:10.1038/mp.2017.57.

Concepts: Human brain, Central nervous system, Snake scales, Neuroanatomy, White matter, Cerebrum, Cerebellum, Mental disorder