Alexandra K Zaleta

Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston, MA, United States

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Publications (9)63.82 Total impact

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    ABSTRACT: The corpus callosum (CC) is the major conduit for information transfer between the cerebral hemispheres and plays an integral role in relaying sensory, motor and cognitive information between homologous cortical regions. The majority of fibers that make up the CC arise from large pyramidal neurons in layers III and V, which project contra-laterally. These neurons degenerate in Huntington's disease (HD) in a topographically and temporally selective way. Since any focus of cortical degeneration could be expected to secondarily de-afferent homologous regions of cortex, we hypothesized that regionally selective cortical degeneration would be reflected in regionally selective degeneration of the CC. We used conventional T1-weighted, diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), and a modified corpus callosum segmentation scheme to examine the CC in healthy controls, huntingtin gene-carriers and symptomatic HD subjects. We measured mid-sagittal callosal cross-sectional thickness and several DTI parameters, including fractional anisotropy (FA), which reflects the degree of white matter organization, radial diffusivity, a suggested index of myelin integrity, and axial diffusivity, a suggested index of axonal damage of the CC. We found a topologically selective pattern of alterations in these measures in pre-manifest subjects that were more extensive in early symptomatic HD subjects and that correlated with performance on distinct cognitive measures, suggesting an important role for disrupted inter-hemispheric transfer in the clinical symptoms of HD. Our findings provide evidence for early degeneration of commissural pyramidal neurons in the neocortex, loss of cortico-cortical connectivity, and functional compromise of associative cortical processing.
    NeuroImage 10/2009; 49(4):2995-3004. · 6.25 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Significant advances are being made in our understanding of basic pathophyiological and biochemical mechanisms that cause Huntington's disease (HD). There is increasing reason to believe that pathologic alterations occur in the brain for years before symptoms manifest. The "classic" hallmark of neuropathology in HD is selective neurodegeneration in which vulnerable populations of neurons degenerate while less vulnerable populations are spared. While the earliest and most striking neuropathologic changes have been found in the neostriatum, neuronal loss has been identified in many other regions of the brain. We report topologically selective, early, and progressive changes in the cortex, striatum, extrastriatal brain structures, and white matter throughout the spectrum of disease. Our growing understanding of HD underscores the reality that points to the complexity of HD. A single, well-defined, genetic mutation causes a cascade of events whose final result is an aggregate insult of the homeostatic process. We explore possible explanations for the selective vulnerability of the brain in HD. The ultimate goal in HD is to develop disease-modifying therapies that will prevent the onset of clinical symptoms in those individuals who are at risk and slow the progression of symptoms in those individuals already affected with symptoms. Understanding changes in brain morphometry and their relationship to clinical symptoms may provide important and new insights into basic pathophysiological mechanisms at play in the disease.
    Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences 01/2009; 1147:196-205. · 4.38 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Prior work has demonstrated that the memory dysfunction of Alzheimer's disease (AD) is accompanied by marked cortical pathology in medial temporal lobe (MTL) gray matter. In contrast, changes in white matter (WM) of pathways associated with the MTL have rarely been studied. We used diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to examine regional patterns of WM tissue changes in individuals with AD. Alterations of diffusion properties with AD were found in several regions including parahippocampal WM, and in regions with direct and secondary connections to the MTL. A portion of the changes measured, including effects in the parahippocampal WM, were independent of gray matter degeneration as measured by hippocampal volume. Examination of regional changes in unique diffusion parameters including anisotropy and axial and radial diffusivity demonstrated distinct zones of alterations, potentially stemming from differences in underlying pathology, with a potential myelin specific pathology in the parahippocampal WM. These results demonstrate that deterioration of neocortical connections to the hippocampal formation results in part from the degeneration of critical MTL and associated fiber pathways.
    Neurobiology of aging 06/2008; 31(2):244-56. · 5.94 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The clinical phenotype of Huntington's disease (HD) is far more complex and variable than depictions of it as a progressive movement disorder dominated by neostriatal pathology represent. The availability of novel neuro-imaging methods has enabled us to evaluate cerebral cortical changes in HD, which we have found to occur early and to be topographically selective. What is less clear, however, is how these changes influence the clinical expression of the disease. In this study, we used a high-resolution surface based analysis of in vivo MRI data to measure cortical thickness in 33 individuals with HD, spanning the spectrum of disease and 22 age- and sex-matched controls. We found close relationships between specific functional and cognitive measures and topologically specific cortical regions. We also found that distinct motor phenotypes were associated with discrete patterns of cortical thinning. The selective topographical associations of cortical thinning with clinical features of HD suggest that we are not simply correlating global worsening with global cortical degeneration. Our results indicate that cortical involvement contributes to important symptoms, including those that have been ascribed primarily to the striatum, and that topologically selective changes in the cortex might explain much of the clinical heterogeneity found in HD. Additionally, a significant association between regional cortical thinning and total functional capacity, currently the leading primary outcome measure used in neuroprotection trials for HD, establishes cortical MRI morphometry as a potential biomarker of disease progression.
    Brain 05/2008; 131(Pt 4):1057-68. · 10.23 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Atrophy of cortical and subcortical gray matter is apparent in Huntington's disease (HD) before symptoms manifest. We hypothesized that the white matter (WM) connecting cortical and subcortical regions must also be affected early and that select clinical symptoms were related to systems degeneration. We used diffusion tensor magnetic resonance imaging (DTI) to examine the regional nature of WM abnormalities in early HD, including the preclinical period, and to determine whether regional changes correlated with clinical features. We studied individuals in early stages (HD), presymptomatic individuals known to carry the genetic mutation that causes HD (Pre-HD), and matched healthy controls. DTI indices of tissue integrity were obtained from several regions of interest, including the corpus callosum (CC), internal capsule (IC), and basal ganglia, were compared across groups by t tests, and were correlated to cognitive and clinical measures. WM alterations were found throughout the CC, in the anterior and posterior limbs of the IC, and in frontal subcortical WM in HD subjects, supporting the selective involvement of the pyramidal tracts in HD; a similar distribution of changes was seen in Pre-HD subjects, supporting presymptomatic alterations. There was a significant relationship between select DTI measures and cognitive performance. Alterations in diffusion indices were also seen in the striatum that were independent of atrophy. Our findings support that WM alterations occur very early in HD. The distribution of the changes suggests that these changes contribute to the disruption of pyramidal and extrapyramidal circuits and also support a role of compromised cortical circuitry in early cognitive and subtle motor impairment during the preclinical stages of HD.
    Movement Disorders 10/2006; 21(9):1317-25. · 4.56 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: In a randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study in 64 subjects with Huntington disease (HD), 8 g/day of creatine administered for 16 weeks was well tolerated and safe. Serum and brain creatine concentrations increased in the creatine-treated group and returned to baseline after washout. Serum 8-hydroxy-2'-deoxyguanosine (8OH2'dG) levels, an indicator of oxidative injury to DNA, were markedly elevated in HD and reduced by creatine treatment.
    Neurology 02/2006; 66(2):250-2. · 8.25 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: The authors studied presymptomatic individuals with the Huntington disease (HD) mutation to determine whether cortical thinning was present. They found thinning that was regionally selective, semi-independent of striatal volume loss, and correlated with cognitive performance. Early, extensive cortical involvement occurs during the preclinical stages of HD.
    Neurology 10/2005; 65(5):745-7. · 8.25 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Humans exhibit significant interindividual variability in behavioral reaction time (RT) performance yet the underlying neural mechanisms for this variability remain largely unknown. It has been proposed that interindividual variability in RT performance may be due to differences in white matter (WM) physiological properties, although such a relationship has never been demonstrated in cortical projection or association pathways in healthy young adults. Using diffusion tensor MRI (DTI), we sought to test whether diffusion tensor fractional anisotropy (FA), a measure of the orientational coherence of water self-diffusion, is regionally correlated with RT on a visual self-paced choice RT (CRT) task. CRT was found to be significantly correlated with FA in projection and association pathways supporting visuospatial attention including the right optic radiation, right posterior thalamus, and right medial precuneus WM. Significant correlations were also observed in left superior temporal sulcus WM and the left parietal operculum. The lateralization of the CRT-FA correlation to right visual and parietal WM pathways is consistent with the specialization of right visual and parietal cortices for visuospatial attention. The localization of the CRT-FA correlations to predominantly visual and parietal WM pathways, but not to motor pathways or the corpus callosum indicates that individual differences in visual CRT performance are associated with variations in the WM underlying the visuospatial attention network as opposed to pathways supporting motor movement or interhemispheric transmission.
    Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 09/2005; 102(34):12212-7. · 9.81 Impact Factor
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    ABSTRACT: Cerebral white matter (WM) undergoes various degenerative changes with normal aging, including decreases in myelin density and alterations in myelin structure. We acquired whole-head, high-resolution diffusion tensor images (DTI) in 38 participants across the adult age span. Maps of fractional anisotropy (FA), a measure of WM microstructure, were calculated for each participant to determine whether particular fiber systems of the brain are preferentially vulnerable to WM degeneration. Regional FA measures were estimated from nine regions of interest in each hemisphere and from the genu and splenium of the corpus callosum (CC). The results showed significant age-related decline in FA in frontal WM, the posterior limb of the internal capsule (PLIC), and the genu of the CC. In contrast, temporal and posterior WM was relatively preserved. These findings suggest that WM alterations are variable throughout the brain and that particular fiber populations within prefrontal region and PLIC are most vulnerable to age-related degeneration.
    Neurobiology of Aging 01/2005; 26(8):1215-27. · 6.17 Impact Factor