An fMRI study of the prefrontal activity during the performance of a working memory task in premutation carriers of the fragile X mental retardation 1 gene with and without fragile X-associated tremor/ataxia syndrome (FXTAS)
Premutation alleles of the fragile X mental retardation 1 gene (FMR1) are associated with the risk of developing fragile X-associated tremor/ataxia syndrome (FXTAS), a late-onset neurodegenerative disorder that involves neuropsychiatric problems and executive and memory deficits. Although abnormal elevation of FMR1 mRNA has been proposed to underlie these deficits, it remains unknown which brain regions are affected by the disease process of FXTAS and genetic molecular mechanisms associated with the FMR1 premutation. This study used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to identify deficient neural substrates responsible for altered executive and memory functions in some FMR1 premutation individuals. We measured fMRI BOLD signals during the performance of verbal working memory from 15 premutation carriers affected by FXTAS (PFX+), 15 premutation carriers unaffected by FXTAS (PFX-), and 12 matched healthy control individuals (HC). We also examined correlation between brain activation and FMR1 molecular variables (CGG repeat size and mRNA levels) in premutation carriers. Compared with HC, PFX+ and PFX- showed reduced activation in the right ventral inferior frontal cortex and left premotor/dorsal inferior frontal cortex. Reduced activation specific to PFX+ was found in the right premotor/dorsal inferior frontal cortex. Regression analysis combining the two premutation groups demonstrated significant negative correlation between the right ventral inferior frontal cortex activity and the levels of FMR1 mRNA after excluding the effect of disease severity of FXTAS. These results indicate altered prefrontal cortex activity that may underline executive and memory deficits affecting some individuals with FMR1 premutation including FXTAS patients.