In patients with retinal ganglion cell diseases, recent diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) studies have revealed structural abnormalities in visual white matter tracts such as the optic tract, and optic radiation. However, the microstructural origin of these diffusivity changes is unknown as DTI metrics involve multiple biological factors and do not correlate directly with specific microstructural properties. In contrast, recent quantitative T1 (qT1) mapping methods provide tissue property measurements relatively specific to myelin volume fractions in white matter. This study aims to improve our understanding of microstructural changes in visual white matter tracts following retinal ganglion cell damage in Leber's hereditary optic neuropathy (LHON) patients by combining DTI and qT1 measurements. We collected these measurements from seven LHON patients and twenty age-matched control subjects. For all individuals, we identified the optic tract and the optic radiation using probabilistic tractography, and evaluated diffusivity and qT1 profiles along them. Both diffusivity and qT1 measurements in the optic tract differed significantly between LHON patients and controls. In the optic radiation, these changes were observed in diffusivity but were not evident in qT1 measurements. This suggests that myelin loss may not explain trans-synaptic diffusivity changes in the optic radiation as a consequence of retinal ganglion cell disease.
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