Functional connectivity changes in the brain may appear before structural changes in patients predisposed to developing a neurological disorder called amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, according to a recent article published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry.
Degenerative conditions affecting the brain like Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease and Huntington's disease severely affect the quality of life of patients, ultimately making them totally dependent on caregivers. Though these conditions currently do not have any known cure, if they are diagnosed early, patients can be offered early treatment, which could possibly slow down the course of the disease.
‘Individuals who are genetically predisposed to amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) may show functional connectivity changes before structural changes in the brain.’
AdvertisementAnother such disease is amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). In patients with ALS, nerves supplying to muscles get affected. As a result, the patient suffers from muscle weakness which progresses to affect the entire body. Patients often succumb to respiratory failure. Early prediction of the condition could possibly allow for steps to slow the progression of the condition.
To understand early brain changes due to ALS, researchers carried out a study on three groups of people. The first group consisted of individuals who had genes that predispose to ALS but did not show any symptoms of ALS. Another group consisted of individuals who suffered from symptoms of ALS. A third group consisted of healthy individuals without a genetic predisposition to ALS for comparison. Each group contained 12 individuals. All the groups were subjected to advanced MRI scans which studied structural and functional abnormalities in the brain.
The study showed significant changes in the brain in patients suffering from ALS as compared to healthy individuals. Significant structural changes, however, were not noted in asymptomatic patients with a genetic predisposition for ALS.
However, the researchers found some significant functional connectivity changes in predisposed asymptomatic patients as well as in patients with ALS as compared to the healthy group.
Though there are no medications available currently to prevent ALS, early detection of patients at risk could possibly help researchers investigate drugs which would protect the nervous system and prevent progression of ALS. Intake of diet rich in beta carotene and lutein is associated with a reduced risk of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS).
Since the study was carried out in very few individuals, additional larger studies are necessary before these findings can be confirmed.
Menke RAL, Proudfoot M, Wuu J, Andersen PM, Talbot K, Benatar M, Turner MR. Increased functional connectivity common to symptomatic amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and those at genetic risk. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry doi:10.1136/jnnp-2015-311945.