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Neurocognitive decline, including deficits in motor learning, occurs in the presymptomatic phase of Huntington’s disease (HD) and precedes the onset of motor symptoms. Findings from recent neuroimaging studies have linked these deficits to alterations in fronto-striatal and fronto-parietal brain networks. However, little is known about the temporal dynamics of these networks when subjects approach phenoconversion. Here, 10 subjects with presymptomatic HD were scanned with 15O-labeled water at baseline and again 1.5 years later while performing a motor sequence learning task and a kinematically matched control task. Spatial covariance analysis was utilized to characterize patterns of change in learningrelated neural activation occurring over time in these individuals. Pattern expression was compared to corresponding values in 10 age-matched healthy control subjects. Spatial covariance analysis revealed significant longitudinal changes in the expression of a specific learning-related activation pattern characterized by increasing activity in the right orbitofrontal cortex, with concurrent reductions in the right medial prefrontal and posterior cingulate regions, the left insula, left precuneus, and left cerebellum. Changes in the expression of this pattern over time correlated with baseline measurements of disease burden and learning performance. The network changes were accompanied by modest improvement in learning performance that took place concurrently in the gene carriers. The presence of increased network activity in the setting of stable task performance is consistent with a discrete compensatory mechanism. The findings suggest that this effect is most pronounced in the late presymptomatic phase of HD, as subjects approach clinical onset.


This article was originally published in PLOS one, available at DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0154742.

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC-BY 4.0)



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