Executive dysfunction occurs in many patients with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), but it has not been well studied in primary lateral sclerosis (PLS). The aims of this study were to (1) compare cognitive function in PLS to that in ALS patients, (2) explore the relationship between performance on specific cognitive tests and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) metrics of white matter tracts and gray matter volumes, and (3) compare DTI metrics in patients with and without cognitive and behavioral changes.
The Delis-Kaplan Executive Function System (D-KEFS), the Mattis Dementia Rating Scale (DRS-2), and other behavior and mood scales were administered to 25 ALS patients and 25 PLS patients. Seventeen of the PLS patients, 13 of the ALS patients, and 17 healthy controls underwent structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and DTI. Atlas-based analysis using MRI Studio software was used to measure fractional anisotropy, and axial and radial diffusivity of selected white matter tracts. Voxel-based morphometry was used to assess gray matter volumes. The relationship between diffusion properties of selected association and commissural white matter and performance on executive function and memory tests was explored using a linear regression model.
More ALS than PLS patients had abnormal scores on the DRS-2. DRS-2 and D-KEFS scores were related to DTI metrics in several long association tracts and the callosum. Reduced gray matter volumes in motor and perirolandic areas were not associated with cognitive scores.
The changes in diffusion metrics of white matter long association tracts suggest that the loss of integrity of the networks connecting fronto-temporal areas to parietal and occipital areas contributes to cognitive impairment.