Diffusion tensor imaging of the brainstem in children with achondroplasia.
The aims of this study were to compare, using diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) of the brainstem, microstructural integrity of the white matter in children with achondroplasia and age-matched participants and to correlate the severity of craniocervical junction (CCJ) narrowing and neurological findings with DTI scalars in children with achondroplasia. This study also aimed to assess the potential role of fibroblast growth factor receptor type 3 on white matter microstructure.Diffusion tensor imaging was performed using a 1.5T magnetic resonance scanner and balanced pairs of diffusion gradients along 20 non-collinear directions. Measurements were obtained from regions of interest, sampled in each pontine corticospinal tract (CST), medial lemniscus, and middle cerebellar peduncle, as well as in the lower brainstem and centrum semiovale, for fractional anisotropy and for mean, axial, and radial diffusivity. In addition, a severity score for achondroplasia was assessed by measuring CCJ narrowing.Eight patients with achondroplasia (seven males, one female; mean age 5y 6mo, range 1y 1mo-15y 1mo) and eight age- and sex-matched comparison participants (mean age 5y 2mo, range 1y 1mo-14y 11mo) were included in this study. Fractional anisotropy was lower and mean diffusivity and radial diffusivity were higher in the lower brainstem of patients with achondroplasia than in age-matched comparison participants. The CST and middle cerebellar peduncle of the participants showed increases in mean, axial, and radial diffusivity. Fractional anisotropy in the lower brainstem was negatively correlated with the degree of CCJ narrowing. No differences in the DTI metrics of the centrum semiovale were observed between the two groups.The reduction in fractional anisotropy and increase in diffusivities in the lower brainstem of participants with achondroplasia may reflect secondary encephalomalacic degeneration and cavitation of the affected white matter tracts as shown by histology. In children with achondroplasia, DTI may serve as a potential biomarker for brainstem white matter injury and aid in the care and management of these patients.