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Structural changes of central white matter tracts in Kennedy's disease – a diffusion tensor imaging and voxel-based morphometry study


H. Schiffbauer, Diagnostic Imaging Center Muenster, Loerstraße 19, D-48143 Muenster, Germany

Tel.: 0049 251 14476520

Fax: 0049 251 48449347




Spinobulbar muscular atrophy [Kennedy's disease (KD)] is a rare X-linked neurodegenerative disorder of mainly spinal and bulbar motoneurons. Recent studies suggest a multisystem character of this disease. The aim of this study was to identify and characterize structural changes of gray (GM) and white matter (WM) in the central nervous system.

Material and methods

Whole-brain-based voxel-based morphometry (VBM) and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) analyses were applied to MRI data of eight genetically proven patients with KD and compared with 16 healthy age-matched controls.


Diffusion tensor imaging analysis showed not only decreased fractional anisotropy (FA) values in the brainstem, but also widespread changes in central WM tracts, whereas VBM analysis of the WM showed alterations primarily in the brainstem and cerebellum. There were no changes in GM volume. The FA value decrease in the brainstem correlated with the disease duration.


Diffusion tensor imaging analysis revealed subtle changes of central WM tract integrity, while GM and WM volume remained unaffected. In our patient sample, KD had more extended effects than previously reported. These changes could either be attributed primarily to neurodegeneration or reflect secondary plastic changes due to atrophy of lower motor neurons and reorganization of cortical structures.