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Longitudinal evaluation of diffusion tensor imaging and cognition in systemic lupus erythematosus

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Kozora E1,2,3,4,5, Filley CM2,3,6, Erkan D4,5, Uluğ AM7,8, Vo A9, Ramon G4, Burleson A10, Zimmerman RD5, Lockshin MD4,5. Lupus. 2018 Aug 13:961203318793215. doi: 10.1177/0961203318793215. [Epub ahead of print]


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1 1 Department of Medicine, National Jewish Health, Denver, CO, USA.

2 2 Department of Neurology, University of Colorado School of Medicine, Aurora, CO, USA.

3 3 Department of Psychiatry, University of Colorado School of Medicine, Aurora, CO, USA.

4 4 Hospital for Special Surgery, New York, NY, USA.

5 5 Weill Cornell Medicine, New York, NY, USA.

6 6 Marcus Institute for Brain Health, University of Colorado, Aurora, CO, USA.

7 7 CorTechs Labs, San Diego, CA, USA.

8 8 Institute of Biomedical Engineering, Boğaziçi University, Istanbul, Turkey.

9 9 The Feinstein Institute for Medical Research, Manhasset, NY, USA.

10 10 Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders, Northwestern University, Evanston, IL, USA.


Objective This pilot study aimed to examine longitudinal changes in brain structure and function in patients with systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) using diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) and neuropsychological testing. Methods Fifteen female SLE patients with no history of major neuropsychiatric (NP) manifestations had brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) with DTI at baseline and approximately 1.5 years later. At the same time points, a standardized battery of cognitive tests yielding a global cognitive impairment index (CII) was administered. At baseline, the SLE patients had mean age of 34.0 years (SD = 11.4), mean education of 14.9 years (SD = 2.1), and mean disease duration of 121.5 months (SD = 106.5). The MRI images were acquired with a 3T GE MRI scanner. A DTI sequence with 33 diffusion directions and b-value of 800 s/mm2 was used. Image acquisition time was about 10 minutes. Results No significant change in cognitive dysfunction (from the CII) was detected. Clinically evaluated MRI scans remained essentially unchanged, with 62% considered normal at both times, and the remainder showing white matter (WM) hyperintensities that remained stable or resolved. DTI showed decreased fractional anisotropy (FA) and increased mean diffusivity (MD) in bilateral cerebral WM and gray matter (GM) with no major change in NP status, medical symptoms, or medications over time. Lower FA was found in the following regions: left and right cerebral WM, and in GM areas including the parahippocampal gyrus, thalamus, precentral gyrus, postcentral gyrus, angular gyrus, parietal lobe, and cerebellum. Greater MD was found in the following regions: left and right cerebral WM, frontal cortex, left cerebral cortex, and the putamen. Conclusions This is the first longitudinal study of DTI and cognition in SLE, and results disclosed changes in both WM and GM without cognitive decline over an 18-month period. DTI abnormalities in our participants were not associated with emergent NP activity, medical decline, or medication changes, and the microstructural changes developed in the absence of macrostructural abnormalities on standard MRI. Microstructural changes may relate to ongoing inflammation, and the stability of cognitive function may be explained by medical treatment, the variability of NP progression in SLE, or the impact of cognitive reserve.