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Improved Executive Function and Callosal White Matter Microstructure after Rhythm Exercise in Huntington's Disease



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J Huntingtons Dis. 2014;3(3):273-83. doi: 10.3233/JHD-140113.

Improved Executive Function and Callosal White Matter Microstructure after Rhythm Exercise in Huntington's Disease.

Metzler-Baddeley C1, Cantera J2, Coulthard E3, Rosser A4, Jones DK1, Baddeley RJ5.


  • 1Cardiff University Brain Research Imaging Centre (CUBRIC), School of Psychology, Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK Neuroscience and Mental Health Research Institute, Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK.
  • 2Music Factory, Bristol University, Bristol, UK.
  • 3Dementia and Cognitive Neurosciences, Bristol University, Bristol, UK.
  • 4Neuroscience and Mental Health Research Institute, Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK School of Biosciences, Cardiff University, Cardiff, UK.
  • 5Experimental Psychology, Bristol University, Bristol, UK.



Huntington's disease (HD) is an autosominal dominant neurodegenerative condition that leads to progressive loss of motor and cognitive functions. Early symptoms in HD include subtle executive dysfunction related to white and grey matter loss in cortico-striatal-thalamic loops. There is no cure for HD and hence a significant need for early intervention with the potential to delay the clinical onset of the disease.


The objective of the present pilot study was to devise a novel behavioural intervention involving drumming and rhythm exercises that targets early dysexecutive problems, such as difficulties in sequence and reversal learning, response speed, timing, and dual tasking.


One preclinical person and nine people with early to advanced stages of HD were recruited of whom five completed the two months intervention. The effects of rhythm exercise on executive function, basal ganglia volume, and white matter microstructure in the anterior corpus callosum, the anterior thalamic radiation, and the cortico-spinal tract were assessed post- relative to pre-training.


After two months training, improvements in executive function and changes in white matter microstructure, notably in the genu of the corpus callosum that connects prefrontal cortices of both hemispheres, were observed. No changes in basal ganglia volume were present.


This pilot study provides novel preliminary evidence that carefully targeted behavioural stimulation in HD can result in cognitive enhancement and improvements in callosal white matter microstructure.


Huntington's disease; anterior thalamic radiation; brain plasticity; corpus callosum; corticospinal tract; diffusion magnetic resonance imaging; executive function; rhythm exercise; training; white matter microstructure



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