The ability to promote and support remyelination has wide-ranging implications for a number of neuropsychiatric conditions from multiple sclerosis to major depression. Pre-clinical evidence has demonstrated that thyroid hormone treatment, in the form of triiodothyronine (T3) or tetraiodothyronine (T4), can promote and support remyelination by increasing myelin basic protein mRNA and protein, oligodendrocyte proliferation and maturation, and fractional anisotropy (a diffusion imaging measure of white matter integrity). Pilot data from our own studies suggest that baseline thyroid status is correlated with the integrity of white matter tracts associated with major depression. To date, the impact of thyroid hormone administration on white matter tracts has not been studied in vivo in adult humans. The purpose of the proposed pilot study is to examine changes in white matter tract integrity using high angular diffusion imaging and multi-component relaxometry in a population of subjects clinically indicated to receive thyroid hormone for hypothyroidism. We will scan patients with hypothyroidism at the initiation of treatment and at three and six months after starting thyroid hormone treatment. We will also administer scales assessing mood and cognition which have been shown to correlate with white matter integrity. We hypothesize that thyroid hormone treatment will be associated with an increase in fractional anisotropy, a decrease in radial diffusivity, and an increase in the myelin water fraction (markers of improved myelination) that will correlate with improvements in cognition and mood ratings. If successful, this will be the first demonstration of improved white matter integrity with thyroid hormone replacement and pave the way for therapies designed to restore structural brain connectivity.
Animal studies have shown that thyroid hormone can improve white matter integrity after damage to myelin, which insulates and protects nerves. It is currently unknown whether this type of repair can occur in humans. The purpose of the proposed study is to examine the impact of thyroid hormone on white matter integrity in humans using two complementary, state-of-the-art neuroimaging techniques: high angular diffusion imaging and multicomponent relaxometry.