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The normal increase in volume of gray matter that occurs during early childhood appears to be delayed in children who have sickle cell disease (SCD), according to results of a study done by St. Jude researchers. This finding, based on MRI images comparing the brains of children with and without SCD, suggests that the disease can cause neurodevelopmental problems, the researchers say. A report on this study appears in the March issue of the American Journal of Neuroradiology.
The study is important because, despite the large body of information available on the effect of the disease on body growth, virtually nothing is known about the effect of SCD on the growth of brain volume, according to Gene Reddick, PhD, Radiological Sciences. Reddick, the director of the diagnostic imaging and signal processing laboratory, is senior author of the report.
The St. Jude team evaluated brain images of 83 children with SCD and 43 similarly-aged healthy children, including 27 patient siblings. At age 9.5 years, patients and healthy control children showed no significant difference in total brain volume. However, patients showed a specific deficit in the volume of their gray matter compared to healthy controls. But patients showed no significant difference compared to controls in the volumes of white matter or ventricles (the interconnecting cavities in the brain).
The St. Jude team says their findings suggest brain volume in young patients is smaller than normal because brain growth processes are delayed or impaired. They also suggest that gray matter is selectively vulnerable to injury in children with SCD, perhaps because of the severe anemia that can occur in such patients.
Other authors of the paper include Grant Steen, PhD, Temitope Emudianughe-Okponobi, Michael Hunte and John Glass, all of Radiological Sciences; and Shengjie Wu and Xiaoping Xiong, PhD, both of Biostatistics. The published article based on this study is dedicated to the memory of Emudianughe-Okponobi, who worked on this project during her time as a postdoctoral fellow at St. Jude and succumbed to complications of cancer after moving to Washington University.
Last update: April 2005