Upper limb evaluation in duchenne muscular dystrophy: Fat-water quantification by MRI, muscle force and function define endpoints for clinical trials

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Abstract

Objective A number of promising experimental therapies for Duchenne muscular dystrophy (DMD) are emerging. Clinical trials currently rely on invasive biopsies or motivation-dependent functional tests to assess outcome. Quantitative muscle magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) could offer a valuable alternative and permit inclusion of non-ambulant DMD subjects. The aims of our study were to explore the responsiveness of upper-limb MRI muscle-fat measurement as a non-invasive objective endpoint for clinical trials in nonambulant DMD, and to investigate the relationship of these MRI measures to those of muscle force and function. Methods 15 non-ambulant DMD boys (mean age 13.3 y) and 10 age-gender matched healthy controls (mean age 14.6 y) were recruited. 3-Tesla MRI fat-water quantification was used to measure forearm muscle fat transformation in non-ambulant DMD boys compared with healthy controls. DMD boys were assessed at 4 time-points over 12 months, using 3-point Dixon MRI to measure muscle fat-fraction (f.f.). Images from ten forearm muscles were segmented and mean f.f. and cross-sectional area recorded. DMD subjects also underwent comprehensive upper limb function and force evaluation. Results Overall mean baseline forearm f.f. was higher in DMD than in healthy controls (p<0.001). A progressive f.f. increase was observed in DMD over 12 months, reaching significance from 6 months (p<0.001, n = 7), accompanied by a significant loss in pinch strength at 6 months (p<0.001, n = 9) and a loss of upper limb function and grip force observed over 12 months (p<0.001, n = 8). Conclusions These results support the use of MRI muscle f.f. as a biomarker to monitor disease progression in the upper limb in non-ambulant DMD, with sensitivity adequate to detect group-level change over time intervals practical for use in clinical trials. Clinical validity is supported by the association of the progressive fat transformation of muscle with loss of muscle force and function.

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Ricotti, V., Evans, M. R. B., Sinclair, C. D. J., Butler, J. W., Ridout, D. A., Hogrel, J. Y., … Thornton, J. S. (2016). Upper limb evaluation in duchenne muscular dystrophy: Fat-water quantification by MRI, muscle force and function define endpoints for clinical trials. PLoS ONE, 11(9). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0162542

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