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5.  Subclinical myocardial inflammation and diffuse fibrosis are common in systemic sclerosis – a clinical study using myocardial T1-mapping and extracellular volume quantification 
Systemic sclerosis (SSc) is characterised by multi-organ tissue fibrosis including the myocardium. Diffuse myocardial fibrosis can be detected non-invasively by T1 and extracellular volume (ECV) quantification, while focal myocardial inflammation and fibrosis may be detected by T2-weighted and late gadolinium enhancement (LGE), respectively, using cardiovascular magnetic resonance (CMR). We hypothesised that multiparametric CMR can detect subclinical myocardial involvement in patients with SSc.
19 SSc patients (18 female, mean age 55 ± 10 years) and 20 controls (19 female, mean age 56 ± 8 years) without overt cardiovascular disease underwent CMR at 1.5T, including cine, tagging, T1-mapping, T2-weighted, LGE imaging and ECV quantification.
Focal fibrosis on LGE was found in 10 SSc patients (53%) but none of controls. SSc patients also had areas of myocardial oedema on T2-weighted imaging (median 13 vs. 0% in controls). SSc patients had significantly higher native myocardial T1 values (1007 ± 29 vs. 958 ± 20 ms, p < 0.001), larger areas of myocardial involvement by native T1 >990 ms (median 52 vs. 3% in controls) and expansion of ECV (35.4 ± 4.8 vs. 27.6 ± 2.5%, p < 0.001), likely representing a combination of low-grade inflammation and diffuse myocardial fibrosis. Regardless of any regional fibrosis, native T1 and ECV were significantly elevated in SSc and correlated with disease activity and severity. Although biventricular size and global function were preserved, there was impairment in the peak systolic circumferential strain (-16.8 ± 1.6 vs. -18.6 ± 1.0, p < 0.001) and peak diastolic strain rate (83 ± 26 vs. 114 ± 16 s-1, p < 0.001) in SSc, which inversely correlated with diffuse myocardial fibrosis indices.
Cardiac involvement is common in SSc even in the absence of cardiac symptoms, and includes chronic myocardial inflammation as well as focal and diffuse myocardial fibrosis. Myocardial abnormalities detected on CMR were associated with impaired strain parameters, as well as disease activity and severity in SSc patients. CMR may be useful in future in the study of treatments aimed at preventing or reducing adverse myocardial processes in SSc.
PMCID: PMC3996013  PMID: 24593856
Scleroderma; Cardiovascular magnetic resonance; T1 mapping; Extracellular volume estimation; Gadolinium
6.  A genome-wide association study of brain lesion distribution in multiple sclerosis 
Brain  2013;136(4):1012-1024.
Brain magnetic resonance imaging is widely used as a diagnostic and monitoring tool in multiple sclerosis and provides a non-invasive, sensitive and reproducible way to track the disease. Topological characteristics relating to the distribution and shape of lesions are recognized as important neuroradiological markers in the diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, although these have been much less well characterized quantitatively than have traditional measures such as T2 hyperintense or T1 hypointense lesion volumes. Here, we used voxel-level 3 T magnetic resonance imaging T1-weighted scans to reconstruct the 3D topology of lesions in 284 subjects with multiple sclerosis and tested whether this is a heritable phenotype. To this end, we extracted the genotypes from a published genome-wide association study on these same individuals and searched for genetic associations with lesion load, shape and topological distribution. Lesion probability maps were created to identify frequently affected areas and to assess the overall distribution of T1 lesions in the subject population as a whole. We then developed an original algorithm to cluster adjacent lesional voxels (cluxels) in each subject and tested whether cluxel topology was significantly associated with any single-nucleotide polymorphism in our data set. To focus on patterns of lesion distribution, we computed the first 10 principal components. Although principal component 1 correlated with lesion load, none of the remaining orthogonal components correlated with any other known variable. We then conducted genome-wide association studies on each of these and found 31 significant associations (false discovery rate <0.01) with principal component 8, which represents a mode of variation of lesion topology in the population. The majority of the loci can be linked to genes related to immune cell function and to myelin and neural growth; some (SYK, MYT1L, TRAPPC9, SLITKR6 and RIC3) have been previously associated with the distribution of white matter lesions in multiple sclerosis. Finally, we used a bioinformatics approach to identify a network of 48 interacting proteins showing genetic associations (P < 0.01) with cluxel topology in multiple sclerosis. This network also contains proteins expressed in immune cells and is enriched in molecules expressed in the central nervous system that contribute to neural development and regeneration. Our results show how quantitative traits derived from brain magnetic resonance images of patients with multiple sclerosis can be used as dependent variables in a genome-wide association study. With the widespread availability of powerful computing and the availability of genotyped populations, integration of imaging and genetic data sets is likely to become a mainstream tool for understanding the complex biological processes of multiple sclerosis and other brain disorders.
PMCID: PMC3613709  PMID: 23412934
voxel-wise; GWAS; multiple sclerosis
7.  Neuroplasticity and functional recovery in multiple sclerosis 
Nature reviews. Neurology  2012;8(11):635-646.
The development of therapeutic strategies that promote functional recovery is a major goal of multiple sclerosis (MS) research. Neuroscientific and methodological advances have improved our understanding of the brain’s recovery from damage, generating novel hypotheses for potential targets or modes of intervention and laying the foundation for the development of scientifically informed strategies promoting recovery in interventional studies. This Review aims to encourage the transition from characterization of recovery mechanisms to the development of strategies that promote recovery in MS. We discuss current evidence for functional reorganization that underlies recovery and its implications for development of new recovery-oriented strategies in MS. Promotion of functional recovery requires an improved understanding of recovery mechanisms modulated by interventions and the development of reliable measures of therapeutic effects. As imaging methods can be used to measure functional and structural alterations associated with recovery, this Review discusses their use as reliable markers to measure the effects of interventions.
PMCID: PMC3770511  PMID: 22986429
11.  Bipolar Disorder is associated with the rs6971 polymorphism in the gene encoding 18 kDa Translocator Protein (TSPO)☆ 
Psychoneuroendocrinology  2013;38(11):2826-2829.
TSPO mediated transport of cholesterol into the mitochondrion is a necessary step in steroid synthesis. The rs6971 polymorphism in the TSPO gene causes an amino acid substitution (Ala147Thr) within the transmembrane domain where the cholesterol-binding pocket is located, and has been shown to affect the steroidogenic pathway. We report a nominal association between this TSPO polymorphism and the diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder in both the genome-wide dataset of the Wellcome Trust Case–Control Consortium and the Psychiatric Genome-Wide Association Study Consortium Bipolar Disorder group (OR = 1.11, p = 0.007; OR = 1.10, p = 0.011, respectively). We propose that the amino acid substitution affects hypothalamic–pituitary–adrenal (HPA) regulation, and hence may predispose to Bipolar Disorder. This supports the hypothesis that HPA dysregulation has a causal role in Bipolar Disorder, and is not just a consequence of the disease.
PMCID: PMC3820042  PMID: 23942012
Translocator Protein; Cortisol; HPA; Neurosteroids; rs6971; Genome-wide; WTCCC; Polymorphism; Mitochondria; Bipolar Disorder
12.  A knowledge-driven interaction analysis reveals potential neurodegenerative mechanism of multiple sclerosis susceptibility 
Genes and immunity  2011;12(5):335-340.
Gene-gene interactions are proposed as one important component of the genetic architecture of complex diseases, and are just beginning to be evaluated in the context of genome wide association studies (GWAS). In addition to detecting epistasis, a benefit to interaction analysis is that it also increases power to detect weak main effects. We conducted a knowledge-driven interaction analysis of a GWAS of 931 multiple sclerosis trios to discover gene-gene interactions within established biological contexts. We identify heterogeneous signals, including a gene-gene interaction between CHRM3 and MYLK (joint p = 0.0002), an interaction between two phospholipase-β isoforms, PLCβ1 & PLCβ4 (joint p = 0.0098), and a modest interaction between ACTN1 and MYH9 (joint p = 0.0326), all localized to calcium-signaled cytoskeletal regulation. Furthermore, we discover a main effect (joint p = 5.2E-5) previously unidentified by single-locus analysis within another related gene, SCIN, a calcium-binding cytoskeleton regulatory protein. This work illustrates that knowledge-driven interaction analysis of GWAS data is a feasible approach to identify new genetic effects. The results of this study are among the first gene-gene interactions and non-immune susceptibility loci for multiple sclerosis. Further, the implicated genes cluster within inter-related biological mechanisms that suggest a neurodegenerative component to multiple sclerosis.
PMCID: PMC3136581  PMID: 21346779
13.  T1-Weighted Sodium MRI of the Articulator Cartilage in Osteoarthritis: A Cross Sectional and Longitudinal Study 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(8):e73067.
Structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has shown great utility in diagnosing soft tissue burden in osteoarthritis (OA), though MRI measures of cartilage integrity have proven more elusive. Sodium MRI can reflect the proteoglycan content of cartilage; however, it requires specialized hardware, acquisition sequences, and long imaging times. This study was designed to assess the potential of a clinically feasible sodium MRI acquisition to detect differences in the knee cartilage of subjects with OA versus healthy controls (HC), and to determine whether longitudinal changes in sodium content are observed at 3 and 6 months. 28 subjects with primary knee OA and 19 HC subjects age and gender matched were enrolled in this ethically-approved study. At baseline, 3 and 6 months subjects underwent structural MRI and a 0.4ms echo time 3D T1-weighted sodium scan as well as the knee injury and osteoarthritis outcome score (KOOS) and knee pain by visual analogue score (VAS). A standing radiograph of the knee was taken for Kellgren-Lawrence (K-L) scoring. A blinded reader outlined the cartilage on the structural images which was used to determine median T1-weighted sodium concentrations in each region of interest on the co-registered sodium scans. VAS, K-L, and KOOS all significantly separated the OA and HC groups. OA subjects had higher T1-weighted sodium concentrations, most strongly observed in the lateral tibial, lateral femoral and medial patella ROIs. There were no significant changes in cartilage volume or sodium concentration over 6 months. This study has shown that a clinically-feasible sodium MRI at a moderate 3T field strength and imaging time with fluid attenuation by T1 weighting significantly separated HCs from OA subjects.
PMCID: PMC3733834  PMID: 23940822
14.  Relating Brain Damage to Brain Plasticity in Patients With Multiple Sclerosis 
Failure of adaptive plasticity with increasing pathology is suggested to contribute to progression of disability in multiple sclerosis (MS). However, functional impairments can be reduced with practice, suggesting that brain plasticity is preserved even in patients with substantial damage.
Here, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was used to probe systems-level mechanisms of brain plasticity associated with improvements in visuomotor performance in MS patients and related to measures of microstructural damage.
23 MS patients and 12 healthy controls underwent brain fMRI during the first practice session of a visuomotor task (short-term practice) and after 2 weeks of daily practice with the same task (longer-term practice). Participants also underwent a structural brain MRI scan.
Patients performed more poorly than controls at baseline. Nonetheless, with practice, patients showed performance improvements similar to controls and independent of the extent of MRI measures of brain pathology. Different relationships between performance improvements and activations were found between groups: greater short-term improvements were associated with lower activation in the sensorimotor, posterior cingulate, and parahippocampal cortices for patients, whereas greater long-term improvements correlated with smaller activation reductions in the visual cortex of controls.
Brain plasticity for visuomotor practice is preserved in MS patients despite a high burden of cerebral pathology. Cognitive systems different from those acting in controls contribute to this plasticity in patients. These findings challenge the notion that increasing pathology is accompanied by an outright failure of adaptive plasticity, supporting a neuroscientific rationale for recovery-oriented strategies even in chronically disabled patients.
PMCID: PMC3674542  PMID: 22328685
15.  Structural and Functional Bases for Individual Differences in Motor Learning 
Human brain mapping  2011;32(3):494-508.
People vary in their ability to learn new motor skills. We hypothesize that between-subject variability in brain structure and function can explain differences in learning. We use brain functional and structural MRI methods to characterize such neural correlates of individual variations in motor learning. Healthy subjects applied isometric grip force of varying magnitudes with their right hands cued visually to generate smoothly-varying pressures following a regular pattern. We tested whether individual variations in motor learning were associated with anatomically colocalized variations in magnitude of functional MRI (fMRI) signal or in MRI differences related to white and grey matter microstructure. We found that individual motor learning was correlated with greater functional activation in the prefrontal, premotor, and parietal cortices, as well as in the basal ganglia and cerebellum.
Structural MRI correlates were found in the premotor cortex [for fractional anisotropy (FA)] and in the cerebellum [for both grey matter density and FA]. The cerebellar microstructural differences were anatomically colocalized with fMRI correlates of learning. This study thus suggests that variations across the population in the function and structure of specific brain regions for motor control explain some of the individual differences in skill learning. This strengthens the notion that brain structure determines some limits to cognitive function even in a healthy population. Along with evidence from pathology suggesting a role for these regions in spontaneous motor recovery, our results also highlight potential targets for therapeutic interventions designed to maximize plasticity for recovery of similar visuomotor skills after brain injury.
PMCID: PMC3674543  PMID: 20533562
16.  Preservation of motor skill learning in patients with multiple sclerosis 
Several studies have demonstrated benefits of rehabilitation in multiple sclerosis (MS). However, the neuroscientific foundations for rehabilitation in MS are poorly established.
As rehabilitation and motor learning share similar mechanisms of brain plasticity, we test whether the dynamics of skill learning are preserved in MS patients relative to controls.
MS patients and controls learned a repeating sequence of hand movements and were assessed for short-term learning. Long-term learning was tested in another cohort of patients and controls practising the same sequence daily for two weeks.
Despite differences in baseline performance, the dynamics and extent of improvements were comparable between MS and control groups for both the short- and long-term learning. Even the most severely damaged patients were capable of performance improvements of similar magnitude to that seen in controls. After one week of training patients performed as well as the controls at baseline.
Mechanisms for short- and long-term plasticity may compensate for impaired functional connectivity in MS to mediate behavioural improvements. Future studies are needed to define the neurobiological substrates of this plasticity and the extent to which mechanisms of plasticity in patients may be distinct from those used for motor learning in controls.
PMCID: PMC3671324  PMID: 20834040
17.  Imaging in population science: cardiovascular magnetic resonance in 100,000 participants of UK Biobank - rationale, challenges and approaches 
UK Biobank is a prospective cohort study with 500,000 participants aged 40 to 69. Recently an enhanced imaging study received funding. Cardiovascular magnetic resonance (CMR) will be part of a multi-organ, multi-modality imaging visit in 3–4 dedicated UK Biobank imaging centres that will acquire and store imaging data from 100,000 participants (subject to successful piloting). In each of UK Biobank’s dedicated bespoke imaging centres, it is proposed that 15–20 participants will undergo a 2 to 3 hour visit per day, seven days a week over a period of 5–6 years. The imaging modalities will include brain MRI at 3 Tesla, CMR and abdominal MRI at 1.5 Tesla, carotid ultrasound and DEXA scans using carefully selected protocols. We reviewed the rationale, challenges and proposed approaches for concise phenotyping using CMR on such a large scale. Here, we discuss the benefits of this imaging study and review existing and planned population based cardiovascular imaging in prospective cohort studies. We will evaluate the CMR protocol, feasibility, process optimisation and costs. Procedures for incidental findings, quality control and data processing and analysis are also presented. As is the case for all other data in the UK Biobank resource, this database of images and related information will be made available through UK Biobank’s Access Procedures to researchers (irrespective of their country of origin and whether they are academic or commercial) for health-related research that is in the public interest.
PMCID: PMC3668194  PMID: 23714095
Cardiovascular magnetic resonance; Prospective cohort study; Population-based study; Nested-case control study; Biobank
18.  Modeling the cumulative genetic risk for multiple sclerosis from genome-wide association data 
Genome Medicine  2011;3(1):3.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is the most common cause of chronic neurologic disability beginning in early to middle adult life. Results from recent genome-wide association studies (GWAS) have substantially lengthened the list of disease loci and provide convincing evidence supporting a multifactorial and polygenic model of inheritance. Nevertheless, the knowledge of MS genetics remains incomplete, with many risk alleles still to be revealed.
We used a discovery GWAS dataset (8,844 samples, 2,124 cases and 6,720 controls) and a multi-step logistic regression protocol to identify novel genetic associations. The emerging genetic profile included 350 independent markers and was used to calculate and estimate the cumulative genetic risk in an independent validation dataset (3,606 samples). Analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) was implemented to compare clinical characteristics of individuals with various degrees of genetic risk. Gene ontology and pathway enrichment analysis was done using the DAVID functional annotation tool, the GO Tree Machine, and the Pathway-Express profiling tool.
In the discovery dataset, the median cumulative genetic risk (P-Hat) was 0.903 and 0.007 in the case and control groups, respectively, together with 79.9% classification sensitivity and 95.8% specificity. The identified profile shows a significant enrichment of genes involved in the immune response, cell adhesion, cell communication/signaling, nervous system development, and neuronal signaling, including ionotropic glutamate receptors, which have been implicated in the pathological mechanism driving neurodegeneration. In the validation dataset, the median cumulative genetic risk was 0.59 and 0.32 in the case and control groups, respectively, with classification sensitivity 62.3% and specificity 75.9%. No differences in disease progression or T2-lesion volumes were observed among four levels of predicted genetic risk groups (high, medium, low, misclassified). On the other hand, a significant difference (F = 2.75, P = 0.04) was detected for age of disease onset between the affected misclassified as controls (mean = 36 years) and the other three groups (high, 33.5 years; medium, 33.4 years; low, 33.1 years).
The results are consistent with the polygenic model of inheritance. The cumulative genetic risk established using currently available genome-wide association data provides important insights into disease heterogeneity and completeness of current knowledge in MS genetics.
PMCID: PMC3092088  PMID: 21244703
19.  Increased PK11195 PET binding in the cortex of patients with MS correlates with disability 
Neurology  2012;79(6):523-530.
Activated microglia are thought to play a major role in cortical gray matter (GM) demyelination in multiple sclerosis (MS). Our objective was to evaluate microglial activation in cortical GM of patients with MS in vivo and to explore its relationship to measures of disability.
Using PET and optimized modeling and segmentation procedures, we investigated cortical 11C-PK11195 (PK11195) binding in patients with relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS), patients with secondary progressive MS (SPMS), and healthy controls. Disability was assessed with the Expanded Disability Status Scale (EDSS) and Multiple Sclerosis Impact Scale (MSIS-29).
Patients with MS showed increased cortical GM PK11195 binding relative to controls, which was multifocal and highest in the postcentral, middle frontal, anterior orbital, fusiform, and parahippocampal gyri. Patients with SPMS also showed additional increases in precentral, superior parietal, lingual and anterior superior, medial and inferior temporal gyri. Total cortical GM PK11195 binding correlated with EDSS scores, with a stronger correlation for the subgroup of patients with SPMS. In patients with SPMS, PK11195 binding also correlated with MSIS-29 scores. No correlation with disability measures was seen for PK11195 binding in white matter. Higher EDSS scores correlated with higher levels of GM PK11195 binding in the postcentral gyrus for patients with RRMS and in precentral gyrus for those with SPMS.
Microglial activation in cortical GM of patients with MS can be assessed in vivo. The distribution is not uniform and shows a relationship to clinical disability. We speculate that the increased PK11195 binding corresponds to enhanced microglial activation described in postmortem SPMS cortical GM.
PMCID: PMC3413767  PMID: 22764258
23.  A Pilot Randomized, Placebo Controlled, Double Blind Phase I Trial of the Novel SIRT1 Activator SRT2104 in Elderly Volunteers 
PLoS ONE  2012;7(12):e51395.
SRT2104 has been developed as a selective small molecule activator of SIRT1, a NAD+-dependent deacetylase involved in the regulation of energy homeostasis and the modulation of various metabolic pathways, including glucose metabolism, oxidative stress and lipid metabolism. SIRT1 has been suggested as putative therapeutic target in multiple age-related diseases including type 2 diabetes and dyslipidemias. We report the first clinical trial of SRT2104 in elderly volunteers.
Oral doses of 0.5 or 2.0 g SRT2104 or matching placebo were administered once daily for 28 days. Pharmacokinetic samples were collected through 24 hours post-dose on days 1 and 28. Multiple pharmacodynamic endpoints were explored with oral glucose tolerance tests (OGTT), serum lipid profiles, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) for assessment of whole body visceral and subcutaneous fat, maximal aerobic capacity test and muscle 31P magnetic resonance spectroscopy (MRS) for estimation of mitochondrial oxidative capacity.
SRT2104 was generally safe and well tolerated. Pharmacokinetic exposure increased less than dose-proportionally. Mean Tmax was 2–4 hours with elimination half-life of 15–20 hours. Serum cholesterol, LDL levels and triglycerides decreased with treatment. No significant changes in OGTT responses were observed. 31P MRS showed trends for more rapid calculated adenosine diphosphate (ADP) and phosphocreatine (PCr) recoveries after exercise, consistent with increased mitochondrial oxidative phosphorylation.
SRT2104 can be safely administered in elderly individuals and has biological effects in humans that are consistent with SIRT1 activation. The results of this study support further development of SRT2104 and may be useful in dose selection for future clinical trials in patients.
Trial Registration NCT00964340
PMCID: PMC3527451  PMID: 23284689
24.  The Effects of Nicotine Replacement on Cognitive Brain Activity During Smoking Withdrawal Studied with Simultaneous fMRI/EEG 
Neuropsychopharmacology  2011;36(9):1792-1800.
Impaired attention (‘difficulty concentrating') is a cognitive symptom of nicotine withdrawal that may be an important contributor to smoking relapse. However, the neurobiological basis of this effect and the potentially beneficial effects of nicotine replacement therapy both remain unclear. We used functional MRI with simultaneous electroencephalogram (EEG) recording to define brain activity correlates of cognitive impairment with short-term smoking cessation in habitual smokers and the effects of nicotine replacement. We found that irrespective of treatment (ie nicotine or placebo) EEG α power was negatively correlated with increased activation during performance of a rapid visual information processing (RVIP) task in dorsolateral prefrontal, dorsal anterior cingulate, parietal, and insular cortices, as well as, caudate, and thalamus. Relative to placebo, nicotine replacement further increased the α-correlated activation across these regions. We also found that EEG α power was negatively correlated with RVIP-induced deactivation in regions comprising the ‘default mode' network (ie angular gyrus, cuneus, precuneus, posterior cingulate, and ventromedial prefrontal cortex). These α-correlated deactivations were further reduced by nicotine. These findings confirm that effects of nicotine on cognition during short-term smoking cessation occur with modulation of neuronal sources common to the generation of both the blood oxygen-level-dependent and α EEG signals. Our observations thus demonstrate that nicotine replacement in smokers has direct pharmacological effects on brain neuronal activity modulating cognitive networks.
PMCID: PMC3154097  PMID: 21544072
nicotine; cognitive impairment; smoking; addiction; fMRI; EEG; addiction & substance abuse; cognition; imaging; clinical or preclinical; neuropharmacology; nicotine; fMRI; EEG
25.  The Use of Functional MRI to Study Appetite Control in the CNS 
Experimental Diabetes Research  2012;2012:764017.
Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) has provided the opportunity to safely investigate the workings of the human brain. This paper focuses on its use in the field of human appetitive behaviour and its impact in obesity research. In the present absence of any safe or effective centrally acting appetite suppressants, a better understanding of how appetite is controlled is vital for the development of new antiobesity pharmacotherapies. Early functional imaging techniques revealed an attenuation of brain reward area activity in response to visual food stimuli when humans are fed—in other words, the physiological state of hunger somehow increases the appeal value of food. Later studies have investigated the action of appetite modulating hormones on the fMRI signal, showing how the attenuation of brain reward region activity that follows feeding can be recreated in the fasted state by the administration of anorectic gut hormones. Furthermore, differences in brain activity between obese and lean individuals have provided clues about the possible aetiology of overeating. The hypothalamus acts as a central gateway modulating homeostatic and nonhomeostatic drives to eat. As fMRI techniques constantly improve, functional data regarding the role of this small but hugely important structure in appetite control is emerging.
PMCID: PMC3376546  PMID: 22719753

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