Gray and white matter are both affected in classical galactosemia: An explorative study on the association between neuroimaging and clinical outcome
Background: Classical Galactosemia (CG) is an inherited disorder of galactose metabolism caused by a deficiency of the galactose-1-phosphate uridylyltransferase (GALT) enzyme resulting in neurocognitive complications. As in many Inborn Errors of Metabolism, the metabolic pathway of CG is well-defined, but the pathophysiology and high variability in clinical outcome are poorly understood. The aim of this study was to investigate structural changes of the brain of CG patients on MRI and their association with clinical outcome. Methods: In this prospective cohort study an MRI protocol was developed to evaluate gray matter (GM) and white matter (WM) volume of the cerebrum and cerebellum, WM hyperintensity volume, WM microstructure and myelin content with the use of conventional MRI techniques, diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) and quantitative T1 mapping. The association between several neuroimaging parameters and both neurological and intellectual outcome was investigated. Results: Twenty-one patients with CG (median age 22 years, range 8–47) and 24 controls (median age 30, range 16–52) were included. Compared to controls, the WM of CG patients was lower in volume and the microstructure of WM was impaired both in the whole brain and corticospinal tract (CST) and the lower R1 values of WM, GM and the CST were indicative of less myelin. The volume of WM lesions were comparable between patients and controls. The 9/16 patients with a poor neurological outcome (defined as the presence of a tremor and/or dystonia), demonstrated a lower WM volume, an impaired WM microstructure and lower R1 values of the WM indicative of less myelin content compared to 7/16 patients without movement disorders. In 15/21 patients with a poor intellectual outcome (defined as an IQ < 85) both GM and WM were affected with a lower cerebral and cerebellar WM and GM volume compared to 6/21 patients with an IQ ≥ 85. Both the severity of the tremor (as indicated by the Tremor Rating Scale) and IQ (as continuous measure) were associated with several neuroimaging parameters such as GM volume, WM volume, CSF volume, WM microstructure parameters and R1 values of GM and WM. Conclusion: In this explorative study performed in patients with Classical Galactosemia, not only WM but also GM pathology was found, with more severe brain abnormalities on MRI in patients with a poor neurological and intellectual outcome. The finding that structural changes of the brain were associated with the severity of long-term complications indicates that quantitative MRI techniques could be of use to explain neurological and cognitive dysfunction as part of the disease spectrum. Based on the clinical outcome of patients, the absence of widespread WM lesions and the finding that both GM and WM are affected, CG could be primarily a GM disease with secondary damage to the WM as a result of neuronal degeneration. To investigate this further the course of GM and WM should be evaluated in longitudinal research, which could also clarify if CG is a neurodegenerative disease.