Heine J, Prüß H, Scheel M, Brandt AU, Gold SM, Bartsch T, Paul F, Finke C.

Hippocampal damage and associated cognitive deficits are frequently observed in neuroimmunological disorders, but comparative analyses to identify shared hippocampal damage patterns are missing. Here, we adopted a transdiagnostic analytical approach and investigated hippocampal shape deformations and associated cognitive deficits in four neuroimmunological diseases. We studied 120 patients (n = 30 in each group), including patients with multiple sclerosis (MS), neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder (NMOSD), anti-NMDAR and anti-LGI1 encephalitis. A control group was matched to each patient sample from a pool of 79 healthy participants. We performed an MRI-based vertex-wise hippocampal shape analysis, extracted hippocampal volume estimates and scalar projection values as a measure of surface displacement. Cognitive testing included assessment of verbal memory and semantic fluency performance. Our cross-sectional analyses revealed characteristic patterns of bilateral inward deformations covering up to 32% of the hippocampal surface in MS, anti-NMDAR encephalitis, and anti-LGI1 encephalitis, whereas NMOSD patients showed no deformations compared to controls. Significant inversions were noted mainly on the hippocampal head, were accompanied by volume loss, and correlated with semantic fluency scores and verbal episodic memory in autoimmune encephalitis and MS. A deformation overlap analysis across disorders revealed a convergence zone on the left anterior hippocampus that corresponds to the CA1 subfield. This convergence zone indicates a shared downstream substrate of immune-mediated damage that appears to be particularly vulnerable to neuroinflammatory processes. Our transdiagnostic morphological view sheds light on mutual pathophysiologic pathways of cognitive deficits in neuroimmunological diseases and stimulates further research into the mechanisms of increased susceptibility of the hippocampus to autoimmunity. 

Neuroimage Clin. 2020;28:102515

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