DTI Technique Diagnoses Movement Disorders
A novel brain-imaging technique could improve how movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease are diagnosed. The technique, called “diffusion tensor imaging,” or DTI, could allow affected people to be diagnosed sooner, which would lead to better treatments for patients.
A three-year study looked at 72 patients, each with a clinically defined movement disorder.
Using the imaging technique, the researchers were able to separate patients into disorder groups with a high degree of accuracy.
“The purpose of this study is to identify markers in the brain that differentiate movement disorders which have clinical symptoms that overlap, making [the disorders] difficult to distinguish,” says David Vaillancourt, associate professor in the department of applied physiology and kinesiology at the University of Florida and the study’s principal investigator.
“No other imaging, cerebrospinal fluid or blood marker, has been this successful at differentiating these disorders,” he adds. “The results are very promising.”
Movement disorders such as Parkinson’s disease, essential tremor, and multiple system atrophy have similar symptoms in the early stages, which can make it difficult to specifically diagnose them. This means that the original diagnosis often changes as the disease progresses, according to Vaillancourt.
Technique Identifies Key Brain Areas
DTI can identify key areas that have been affected as a result of damage to gray matter and white matter in the brain. Vaillancourt and his team measured areas of the basal ganglia and cerebellum in participants, and statistically predicted to which group they belonged. The technique is noninvasive.
“Our goal was to use these measures to accurately predict the original disease classification,” Vaillancourt says. “The idea being that if a new patient came in with an unknown diagnosis, you might be able to apply this algorithm to that individual.”
He compared the process to a cholesterol test.
“If you have high cholesterol, it raises your chances of developing heart disease in the future,” he said. “There are tests like those that give a probability or likelihood scenario of a particular disease group. We’re going a step further and trying to utilize information to predict the classification of specific tremor and Parkinsonian diseases.”
Vaillancourt’s team plans to assess between 150 and 180 people over the next few years. His team will be using DTI as well as other MRI-based techniques to classify subjects and track their progression.