Comparison of Structural Changes in Nodding Syndrome and Other Epilepsies Associated With Onchocerca volvulus

Mazumder R, Lubowa SK, Salamon N, Jackson NJ, Kawooya M, Akun PR, Anguzu R, Ogwang RJ, Kubofcik J, Nutman T, Marsh K, Newton C, Vincent A, Idro R
Neurol Neuroimmunol Neuroinflamm. 2023;10

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BACKGROUND AND OBJECTIVE: Nodding syndrome (NS) is a unique childhood-onset epileptic disorder that occurs predominantly in several regions of sub-Saharan Africa. The disease has been associated with Onchocerca volvulus (Ov)-induced immune responses and possible cross-reactivity with host proteins. The aim of this study was to compare structural changes in the brain on MRI between NS and other forms of onchocerciasis-associated epilepsies (OAEs) and to relate structural changes to the Ov-induced immune responses and level of disability. METHODS: Thirty-nine children with NS and 14 age-matched participants with other forms of OAE from an endemic region in Uganda underwent detailed clinical examination, serologic evaluation (including Ov-associated antibodies to Ov-16 and Hu-leiomodin-1) and quantitative volumetric analysis of brain MRIs (1.5 T scanner) using Neuroreader, a cloud-based software. RESULTS: Cerebral and cerebellar atrophy were the predominant features in both NS and OAE. On quantitative volumetric analysis, participants with NS had larger ventricular volumes compared with participants with OAE, indicative of increased global cortical atrophy (p(corr) = 0.036). Among children with NS, severe disability correlated with higher degree of atrophy in the gray matter volume (p(corr) = 0.009) and cerebellar volume (p(corr) = 0.009). NS cases had lower anti-Ov-16 IgG signal-to-noise ratios than the OAE cases (p < 0.01), but no difference in the levels of the Hu-leiomodin-1 antibodies (p = 0.64). The levels of Ov-associated antibodies did not relate to the degree of cerebral or cerebellar atrophy in either NS or OAE cases. DISCUSSION: This is the first study to show that cerebral and cerebellar atrophy correlated with the severity of NS disability, providing an imaging marker for these endemic epileptic disorders that until now have remained poorly characterized. Both NS and OAE have cerebral and cerebellar atrophy, and the levels of Ov-associated antibodies do not seem to be related to the structural changes on MRI.