In this study of eight rare atypical deletion cases with Williams-Beuren syndrome (WS; also known as 7q11.23 deletion syndrome) consisting of three different patterns of deletions, compared to typical WS and typically developing (TD) individuals, we show preliminary evidence of dissociable genetic contributions to brain structure and human cognition. Univariate and multivariate pattern classification results of morphometric brain patterns complemented by behavior implicate a possible role for the chromosomal region that includes: 1) GTF2I/GTF2IRD1 in visuo-spatial/motor integration, intraparietal as well as overall gray matter structures, 2) the region spanning ABHD11 through RFC2 including LIMK1, in social cognition, in particular approachability, as well as orbitofrontal, amygdala and fusiform anatomy, and 3) the regions including STX1A, and/or CYLN2 in overall white matter structure. This knowledge contributes to our understanding of the role of genetics on human brain structure, cognition and pathophysiology of altered cognition in WS. The current study builds on ongoing research designed to characterize the impact of multiple genes, gene-gene interactions and changes in gene expression on the human brain.
Little is known about the emergence of structural asymmetry of white matter tracts during early brain development. We examined whether and when asymmetry in diffusion parameters of limbic and association white matter pathways emerged in humans in 23 brains ranging from 15 gestational weeks (GW) up to 3 years of age (11 ex vivo and 12 in vivo cases) using high-angular resolution diffusion imaging tractography. Age-related development of laterality was not observed in a limbic connectional pathway (cingulum bundle or fornix). Among the studied cortico-cortical association pathways (inferior longitudinal fasciculus [ILF], inferior fronto-occipital fasciculus, and arcuate fasciculus), only the ILF showed development of age-related laterality emerging as early as the second trimester. Comparisons of ages older and younger than 40 GW revealed a leftward asymmetry in the cingulum bundle volume and a rightward asymmetry in apparent diffusion coefficient and leftward asymmetry in fractional anisotropy in the ILF in ages older than 40 GW. These results suggest that morphometric asymmetry in cortical areas precedes the emergence of white matter pathway asymmetry. Future correlative studies will investigate whether such asymmetry is anatomically/genetically driven or associated with functional stimulation.
Dyslexia is commonly attributed to a phonological deficit, but whether it effectively compromises the phonological grammar or lower level systems is rarely explored. To address this question, we gauge the sensitivity of dyslexics to grammatical phonological restrictions on spoken onset clusters (e.g., bl in block). Across languages, certain onsets are preferred to others (e.g., blif ? bnif ? bdif, where ? indicates a preference). Here, we show that dyslexic participants (adult native speakers of Hebrew) are fully sensitive to these phonological restrictions, and they extend them irrespective of whether the onsets are attested in their language (e.g., bnif vs. bdif) or unattested (e.g., mlif vs. mdif). Dyslexics, however, showed reduced sensitivity to phonetic contrasts (e.g., blif vs. belif; ba vs. pa). Together, these results suggest that the known difficulties of dyslexics in speech processing could emanate not from the phonological grammar, but rather from lower level impairments to acoustic/phonetic encoding, lexical storage, and retrieval.
Developmental dyslexia is a language learning disorder that affects approximately 4-10% of the population. A number of candidate dyslexia susceptibility genes have been identified, including DCDC2 and KIAA0319 on Chromosome (Chr) 6p22.2 and DYX1C1 on Chr 15q21. Embryonic knockdown of the function of homologs of these genes in rat neocortical projection cell progenitors by in utero electroporation of plasmids encoding small hairpin RNA (shRNA) revealed that all three genes disrupted neuronal migration to the neocortex. Specifically, this disruption would result in heterotopia formation (Dyx1c1 and Kiaa0319) and/or overmigration past their expected laminar location (Dyx1c1 and Dcdc2). In these experiments, neurons normally destined for the upper neocortical laminæ were transfected on embryonic day (E) 15.5, and we designed experiments to test whether these migration phenotypes were the result of targeting a specific type of projection neuron. We transfected litters with Dcdc2 shRNA, Dyx1c1 shRNA, Kiaa0319 shRNA, or fluorescent protein (as a control) at each of three gestational ages (E14.5, E15.5, or E16.5). Pups were allowed to come to term, and their brains were examined at 3 weeks of age for the position of transfected cells. We found that age of transfection did not affect the percentage of unmigrated neurons--transfection with Kiaa0319 shRNA resulted in heterotopia formation at all three ages. Overmigration of neurons transfected with Dcdc2 shRNA, while present following transfections at the later ages, did not occur following E14.5 transfections. These results are considered in light of the known functions of each of these candidate dyslexia susceptibility genes.
Cerebral axonal connections begin to develop before birth during radial migration in each brain area. A number of theories are still actively debated regarding the link between neuronal migration, developing connectivity, and gyrification. Here, we used high angular resolution diffusion tractography on postmortem fetal human brains (postconception week (W) 17-40) to document the regression of radial and tangential organization likely to represent migration pathways and the emergence of corticocortical organization and gyrification. The dominant radial organization at W17 gradually diminished first in dorsal parieto-occipital and later in ventral frontotemporal regions with regional variation: radial organization persisted longer in the crests of gyri than at the depths of sulci. The dominant tangential organization of the ganglionic eminence at W17 also gradually disappeared by term, together with the disappearance of the ganglionic eminence. A few immature long-range association pathways were visible at W17, gradually became evident by term. Short-range corticocortical tracts emerged prior to gyrification in regions where sulci later developed. Our results suggest that the regional regression of radial organization and regional emergence of fetal brain connectivity proceeds in general from posterodorsal to anteroventral with local variations.
Individuals with Williams syndrome (WS) demonstrate an abnormally positive social bias. However, the neural substrates of this hypersociability, i.e., positive attribution bias and increased drive toward social interaction, have not fully been elucidated. METHODS: We performed an event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging study while individuals with WS and typically developing controls (TD) matched positive and negative emotional faces. WS compared to TD showed reduced right amygdala activation during presentation of negative faces, as in the previous literature. In addition, WS showed a unique pattern of right orbitofrontal cortex activation. While TD showed medial orbitofrontal cortex activation in response to positive, and lateral orbitofrontal cortex activation to negative, WS showed the opposite pattern. In light of the general notion of a medial/lateral gradient of reward/punishment processing in the orbitofrontal cortex, these findings provide an additional biological explanation for, or correlate of positive attribution bias and hypersociability in WS.
The immature cortex (cortical plate [CP]) and underlying subplate (SP), a transient cell layer just below the CP, play critical roles in the formation of intracerebral connections. The purpose of this study was to examine the diffusion characteristics of the developing cortex and subcortical structures and compare to histology. We obtained high-resolution diffusion spectrum images of postnatal day (P) 0 (newborn), P35 (pediatric), and P100 (adult) cat brains, performed tractography analysis, and correlated with histological findings. Tractography revealed radial organization and radial afferent/efferent tracts not only in the CP but also in external SP at P0. Radial organization persisted only in the cortex but decreased at P35 and P100. Radial organization correlated with radial cellular organization, with highest cellular density at P0 (Cresyl Violet staining). At P0, the internal SP contained abundant corticocortical and projection tractography pathways, crossing at wide angles in areas with no myelination by Luxol Fast Blue staining. At P35 and P100, increased directional coherence of white matter was observed, with fewer local tracts, but more long association pathways. These results suggest that diffusion tractography can differentially characterize internal and external SP zones and their transition into mature cortical pathways.
Williams syndrome (WS) is a genetic condition characterized by atypical brain structure, cognitive deficits, and a life-long fascination with faces. Face recognition is relatively spared in WS, despite abnormalities in aspects of face processing and structural alterations in the fusiform gyrus, part of the ventral visual stream. Thus, face recognition in WS may be subserved by abnormal neural substrates in the ventral stream. To test this hypothesis, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging and examined the fusiform face area (FFA), which is implicated in face recognition in typically developed (TD) individuals, but its role in WS is not well understood. We found that the FFA was approximately two times larger among WS than TD participants (both absolutely and relative to the fusiform gyrus), despite apparently normal levels of face recognition performance on a Benton face recognition test. Thus, a larger FFA may play a role in face recognition proficiency among WS.
We investigated the postnatal effects of embryonic knockdown and overexpression of the candidate dyslexia gene homolog Kiaa0319. We used in utero electroporation to transfect cells in E15/16 rat neocortical ventricular zone with either 1) small hairpin RNA (shRNA) vectors targeting Kiaa0319, 2) a KIAA0319 expression construct, 3) Kiaa0319 shRNA along with KIAA0319 expression construct ("rescue"), or 4) a scrambled version of Kiaa0319 shRNA. Knockdown, but not overexpression, of Kiaa0319 resulted in periventricular heterotopias that contained large numbers of both transfected and non-transfected neurons. This suggested that Kiaa0319 shRNA disrupts neuronal migration by cell autonomous as well as non-cell autonomous mechanisms. Of the Kiaa0319 shRNA-transfected neurons that migrated into the cortical plate, most migrated to their appropriate lamina. In contrast, neurons transfected with the KIAA0319 expression vector attained laminar positions subjacent to their expected positions. Neurons transfected with Kiaa0319 shRNA exhibited apical, but not basal, dendrite hypertrophy, which was rescued by overexpression of KIAA0319. The results provide additional supportive evidence linking candidate dyslexia susceptibility genes to migrational disturbances during brain development, and extends the role of Kiaa0319 to include growth and differentiation of dendrites.
Examination of the three-dimensional axonal pathways in the developing brain is key to understanding the formation of cerebral connectivity. By tracing fiber pathways throughout the entire brain, diffusion tractography provides information that cannot be achieved by conventional anatomical MR imaging or histology. However, standard diffusion tractography (based on diffusion tensor imaging, or DTI) tends to terminate in brain areas with low water diffusivity, indexed by low diffusion fractional anisotropy (FA), which can be caused by crossing fibers as well as fibers with less myelin. For this reason, DTI tractography is not effective for delineating the structural changes that occur in the developing brain, where the process of myelination is incomplete, and where crossing fibers exist in greater numbers than in the adult brain. Unlike DTI, diffusion spectrum imaging (DSI) can define multiple directions of water diffusivity; as such, diffusion tractography based on DSI provides marked flexibility for delineation of fiber tracts in areas where the fiber architecture is complex and multidirectional, even in areas of low FA. In this study, we showed that FA values were lower in the white matter of newborn (postnatal day 0; P0) cat brains than in the white matter of infant (P35) and juvenile (P100) cat brains. These results correlated well with histological myelin stains of the white matter: the newborn kitten brain has much less myelin than that found in cat brains at later stages of development. Using DSI tractography, we successfully identified structural changes in thalamo-cortical and cortico-cortical association tracts in cat brains from one stage of development to another. In newborns, the main body of the thalamo-cortical tract was smooth, and fibers branching from it were almost straight, while the main body became more complex and branching fibers became curved reflecting gyrification in the older cats. Cortico-cortical tracts in the temporal lobe were smooth in newborns, and they formed a sharper angle in the later stages of development. The cingulum bundle and superior longitudinal fasciculus became more visible with time. Within the first month after birth, structural changes occurred in these tracts that coincided with the formation of the gyri. These results show that DSI tractography has the potential for mapping morphological changes in low FA areas associated with growth and development. The technique may also be applicable to the study of other forms of brain plasticity, including future studies in vivo.
Functional imaging in humans and anatomical data in monkeys have implicated the insula as a multimodal sensory integrative brain region. The topography of insular connections is organized by its cytoarchitectonic regions. Previous attempts to measure the insula have utilized either indirect or automated methods. This study was designed to develop a reliable method for obtaining volumetric magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) measurements of the human insular cortex, and to validate that method by examining the anatomy of insular cortex in adults with Williams syndrome (WS) and healthy age-matched controls. Statistical reliability was obtained among three raters for this method, supporting its reproducibility not only across raters, but within different software packages. The procedure described here utilizes native-space morphometry as well as a method for dividing the insula into connectivity-based sub-regions estimated from cytoarchitectonics. Reliability was calculated in both ANALYZE (N=3) and BrainImageJava (N=10) where brain scans were measured once in each hemisphere by each rater. This highly reliable method revealed total, anterior, and posterior insular volume reduction bilaterally (all ps<.002) in WS, after accounting for reduced total brain volumes in these participants. Although speculative, the reduced insular volumes in WS may represent a neural risk for the development of hyperaffiliative social behavior with increased specific phobias, and implicate the insula as a critical limbic integrative region. Native-space quantification of the insula may be valuable in the study of neurodevelopmental or neuropsychiatric disorders related to anxiety and social behavior.
Williams syndrome (WS) features a spectrum of neurocognitive and behavioral abnormalities due to a rare 1.5 MB deletion that includes about 24-28 genes on chromosome band 7q11.23. Study of the expression of these genes from the single normal copy provides an opportunity to elucidate the genetic and epigenetic controls on these genes as well as their roles in both WS and normal brain development and function. We used quantitative RT-PCR to determine the transcriptional level of 14 WS gene markers in a cohort of 77 persons with WS and 48 normal controls. Results reported here: (1) show that the expression of the genes deleted in WS is decreased in some but not all cases, (2) demonstrate that the parental origin of the deletion contributes to the level of expression of GTF2I independently of age and gender and (3) indicate that the correlation of expression between GTF2I and some other genes in the WS region differs in WS subjects and normal controls, which in turn points toward a regulatory role for this gene. Interspecies comparisons suggest GTF2I may play a key role in normal brain development.
In this paper, we propose an automated approach for the joint detection of major sulci on cortical surfaces. By representing sulci as nodes in a graphical model, we incorporate Markovian relations between sulci and formulate their detection as a maximum a posteriori (MAP) estimation problem over the joint space of major sulci. To make the inference tractable, a sample space with a finite number of candidate curves is automatically generated at each node based on the Hamilton-Jacobi skeleton of sulcal regions. Using the AdaBoost algorithm, we learn both individual and pairwise shape priors of sulcal curves from training data, which are then used to define potential functions in the graphical model based on the connection between AdaBoost and logistic regression. Finally belief propagation is used to perform the MAP inference and select the joint detection results from the sample spaces of candidate curves. In our experiments, we quantitatively validate our algorithm with manually traced curves and demonstrate the automatically detected curves can capture the main body of sulci very accurately. A comparison with independently detected results is also conducted to illustrate the advantage of the joint detection approach.
Dyslexia is associated with numerous deficits to speech processing. Accordingly, a large literature asserts that dyslexics manifest a phonological deficit. Few studies, however, have assessed the phonological grammar of dyslexics, and none has distinguished a phonological deficit from a phonetic impairment. Here, we show that these two sources can be dissociated. Three experiments demonstrate that a group of adult dyslexics studied here is impaired in phonetic discrimination (e.g., ba vs. pa), and their deficit compromises even the basic ability to identify acoustic stimuli as human speech. Remarkably, the ability of these individuals to generalize grammatical phonological rules is intact. Like typical readers, these Hebrew-speaking dyslexics identified ill-formed AAB stems (e.g., titug) as less wordlike than well-formed ABB controls (e.g., gitut), and both groups automatically extended this rule to nonspeech stimuli, irrespective of reading ability. The contrast between the phonetic and phonological capacities of these individuals demonstrates that the algebraic engine that generates phonological patterns is distinct from the phonetic interface that implements them. While dyslexia compromises the phonetic system, certain core aspects of the phonological grammar can be spared.
Polymicrogyria (PMG) is a malformation of cortical development characterized by an irregular gyral pattern and its diagnosis and severity have been qualitatively judged by visual inspection of imaging features. We aimed to provide a quantitative description of abnormal sulcal patterns for individual PMG brains using our sulcal graph-based analysis and examined the association with language impairment. The sulcal graphs were constructed from magnetic resonance images in 26 typical developing and 18 PMG subjects and the similarity between sulcal graphs was computed by using their geometric and topological features. The similarities between typical and PMG groups were significantly lower than the similarities measured within the typical group. Furthermore, more lobar regions were determined to be abnormal in most patients when compared with the visual diagnosis of PMG involvement, suggesting that PMG may have more global effects on cortical folding than previously expected. Among the PMG, the group with intact language development showed sulcal patterns more closely matched with the typical than the impaired group in the left parietal lobe. Our approach shows the potential to provide a quantitative means for detecting the severity and extent of involvement of cortical malformation and a greater understanding of genotype-phenotype and clinical-imaging features correlations.
Within the last decade several genes have been identified as candidate risk genes for developmental dyslexia. Recent research using animal models and embryonic RNA interference (RNAi) has shown that a subset of the candidate dyslexia risk genes--DYX1C1, ROBO1, DCDC2, KIAA0319--regulate critical parameters of neocortical development, such as neuronal migration. For example, embryonic disruption of the rodent homolog of DYX1C1 disrupts neuronal migration and produces deficits in rapid auditory processing (RAP) and working memory--phenotypes that have been reported to be associated with developmental dyslexia. In the current study we used a modified prepulse inhibition paradigm to assess acoustic discrimination abilities of male Wistar rats following in utero RNA interference targeting Kiaa0319. We also assessed spatial learning and working memory using a Morris water maze (MWM) and a radial arm water maze. We found that embryonic interference with this gene resulted in disrupted migration of neocortical neurons leading to formation of heterotopia in white matter, and to formation of hippocampal dysplasia in a subset of animals. These animals displayed deficits in processing complex acoustic stimuli, and those with hippocampal malformations exhibited impaired spatial learning abilities. No significant impairment in working memory was detected in the Kiaa0319 RNAi treated animals. Taken together, these results suggest that Kiaa0319 plays a role in neuronal migration during embryonic development, and that early interference with this gene results in an array of behavioral deficits including impairments in rapid auditory processing and simple spatial learning.
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