2021 ABN Fellowship
A microstructural imaging approach to determine morphological neuronal differences in adult-onset focal cervical dystonia
Dystonia is a common movement disorder involving uncontrolled, repetitive and sustained muscle contractions. These result in abnormal postures that affect function, cause pain and can impact education and employment. Dystonia involving the neck (cervical dystonia) is the commonest form. No cure or disease-modifying treatments are currently available, mainly due to limited understanding of the factors causing dystonia. Previous brain imaging studies have implicated specific regions thought to contribute to dystonia, including those involved in motor planning and control (cerebellum, basal ganglia, sensorimotor cortex), the fibre pathways connecting these regions, and the chemicals that allow communication between nerve cells (neurotransmitters). 7 Diffusion magnetic resonance imaging uses the movement (diffusion) of molecules to study brain tissue structure. Cardiff University is host to one of only four worldwide ‘Connectom’ MRI scanners, that when combined with some of the latest analysis techniques, allows us to look at detailed brain tissue microstructure. Previous work in our group has shown signal differences in the cerebellum in dystonia. We plan to compare brain regions involved in motor planning and the long projections (axons) connecting these areas, in participants with and without cervical dystonia. We will look specifically at nerve cell properties, including cell bodies and small branches (dendrites). We will also use another technique (diffusion spectroscopy) that allows us to measure neurotransmitter levels and provides further microstructural detail of the tissue. Using these techniques, we hope to better understand the microstructural differences key in giving rise to dystonia, enabling us to develop newer and more effectively targeted treatments.