PURPOSE: Prospective and longitudinal neuroimaging studies of posterior fossa tumors are scarce. Here we evaluate the early changes in white matter and intellectual outcome up to 3 years after diagnosis.
PATIENTS AND METHODS: Twenty-two children with posterior fossa tumors and 24 similarly-aged healthy children participated. Patients included: (a) 12 individuals who received surgery, cranial-spinal radiation (CSR), and focal radiation to the tumor bed (CSR group) and (b) 10 individuals who received local therapy, either surgery only or surgery and focal radiation to the tumor bed (Local group). Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) and intelligence measures were obtained an average of 3 months after diagnosis and then at 12, 24, and 36 months later. DTI tractography and voxel-wise approaches were employed. The Neurological Predictor Scale was used to summarize the type and amount of treatment for PF tumor patients. Linear mixed modelling was used to evaluate group differences at baseline and changes over time in DTI metrics for both the specific white matter tracts and voxel-wise, as well as for intelligence measures.
RESULTS: Based on tractography, patients treated with CSR had significantly higher Axial and Mean diffusivity in the cortical-spinal tracts (CST) 3 month after diagnosis - particularly on the right side, p < .003, compared to healthy children. Mean diffusivity in right CST decreased over time in this group of patients, p = .001. No differences compared to controls were evident in specific tracts for the Local group, p > .10. Voxel-wise analyses revealed multiple areas of white matter compromise in both patients groups. Notably, both patient groups had lower scores on intelligence measures compared to the Control group: The CSR group displayed lower performance 3 months following diagnosis, ps < 0.001, and their performance remained stable over time ps > 0.10, whereas the Local group displayed no differences at 3 months, ps> 0.10, but their performance declined over time, ps < 0.01. At baseline, higher MD in right CST predicted lower Perceptual Reasoning scores across all participants, p = .001. Furthermore, lower FA in left IFOF at baseline predicted decline in Processing Speed over time, p = .001. In patients, more aggressive treatment protocols and presence of mutism were related to lower performance on intelligence measures at baseline, ps < 0.04.
CONCLUSIONS: Children treated with CSR displayed diffuse white matter compromise and poor intellectual outcome shortly after radiation treatment. There was evidence of subsequent growth of white matter structure, but stable intellectual insult. Conversely, in children treated with either surgery only or surgery and focal radiation to the tumor bed we observed less compromise of white matter early following treatment and no intellectual insult compared to healthy children. However, declines in intellectual function were evident for these children, though their performance remained within the average normative range. Overall, results suggest that early intervention is necessary to circumvent these deficits.