Neuropsychiatric symptoms and cognitive impairment have been consistently reported in patients with hepatitis C virus (HCV) infection. Since the mechanisms behind remain to be established, the present study attempted to assess whether neuropsychological impairments in HCV-infected patients are accompanied by structural alterations in the brain. Therefore, 19 anti-HCV-antibody-positive women with mild liver disease and 16 healthy controls underwent extensive neuropsychological testing and cranial magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) examination. Nine of the patients and five controls were followed up after 6–7 years. Voxel-based morphometry and magnetization transfer imaging were utilized to study HCV-associated structural gray and white matter changes. The HCV-infected patients had significantly worse fatigue and depression scores and significantly poorer performance on attention and memory tests than controls. The patients displayed gray matter (GM) atrophy in the bilateral insula and thalamus and a profound GM volume increases in the cerebellum. Microstructural GM changes in the insula were also evident by a reduced magnetization transfer ratio. Structural white matter changes were observed along several descending and crossing fiber tracts. Follow-up at 7 years revealed increased GM atrophy in the left amygdala and left parahippocampal regions over time. We conclude that our data provide evidence for structural alterations in the brains of patients with chronic HCV infection. Disturbances of cerebellothalamocortical regions and circuits, linking cerebellar projections to the prefrontal cortex through the thalamus, underpin the emotional and cognitive dysfunction characteristically observed in these patients.
Research Areas and Centers
- Centers: Center for Neuromuscular Diseases