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Morphometric Demonstration of Atrophic Changes in the Cerebral Cortex, White Matter, and Neostriatum in Huntington's Disease

Suzanne M. de la Monte M.D., M.P.H., Jean-Paul Vonsattel M.D., E. P. Richardson Jr. M.D.
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1097/00005072-198809000-00003 516-525 First published online: 1 September 1988


We performed morphometric analysis of five standardized coronal brain slices at anterior frontal (AF), caudate-putamen-accumbens (CAP), globus pallidus (GP), lateral geniculate nucleus (LGN), and parieto-occipital fissure (OCP) levels in 30 patients with Huntington's disease (HD) and 13 controls. Associated with the 30% mean reduction in brain weight in HD patients (p<0.001) were significantly smaller overall cross-sectional areas of brain at all five levels studied, with striking losses in cerebral cortex (21-29%), white matter (29-34%), caudate (57%), putamen (64%), and thalamus (28%) (all p<0.005). In addition, the ventricular system was dilated up to 2.5 times normal at CAP, GP, and LGN levels, 9.5 times normal at the OCP level, and 13 times normal at the AF level. Higher grades of severity of HD had greater reductions in the cross-sectional area of the caudate, putamen, thalamus, and cerebral cortex (p<0.005-0.001), and larger ventricles (p=0.08) compared to lower (less severe) grades of HD. The findings confirm and quantitate the severe atrophy of the neostriatum, in addition to demonstrating a severe loss of cerebral cortex and subcortical white matter in HD. The global atrophy of cerebral cortex and white matter observed in all degrees of HD may account for the cognitive and neuropsychiatric impairments which often precede the onset of chorea.

Key Words
  • Atrophy, cerebral
  • Dementia
  • Huntington's disease
  • Hydrocephalus
  • Morphometry