Neurocognitive deficits in pediatric cancer survivors occur frequently; however, individual outcomes are unpredictable. We investigate clinical, genetic, and imaging predictors of neurocognition in pediatric cancer survivors, with a focus on survivors of central nervous system (CNS) tumors exposed to radiation.
One hundred eighteen patients with benign or malignant cancers (median diagnosis age: 7; 32% embryonal CNS tumors) were selected from an existing multi-institutional cohort (RadART Pro) if they had: 1) neurocognitive evaluation; 2) available DNA; 3) standard imaging. Utilizing RadART Pro, we collected clinical history, genomic sequencing, CNS imaging, and neurocognitive outcomes. We performed single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) genotyping for candidate genes associated with neurocognition: COMT, BDNF, KIBRA, APOE, KLOTHO. Longitudinal neurocognitive testing were performed using validated computer-based CogState batteries. The imaging cohort was made of patients with available iron-sensitive (n = 28) and/or T2 FLAIR (n = 41) sequences. Cerebral microbleeds (CMB) were identified using a semi-automated algorithm. Volume of T2 FLAIR white matter lesions (WML) was measured using an automated method based on a convolutional neural network. Summary statistics were performed for patient characteristics, neurocognitive assessments, and imaging. Linear mixed effects and hierarchical models assessed patient characteristics and SNP relationship with neurocognition over time. Nested case-control analysis was performed to compare candidate gene carriers to non-carriers.
CMB presence at baseline correlated with worse performance in 3 of 7 domains, including executive function. Higher baseline WML volumes correlated with worse performance in executive function and verbal learning. No candidate gene reliably predicted neurocognitive outcomes; however, APOE ϵ4 carriers trended toward worse neurocognitive function over time compared to other candidate genes and carried the highest odds of low neurocognitive performance across all domains (odds ratio 2.85, P=0.002). Hydrocephalus and seizures at diagnosis were the clinical characteristics most frequently associated with worse performance in neurocognitive domains (5 of 7 domains). Overall, executive function and verbal learning were the most frequently negatively impacted neurocognitive domains.
Presence of CMB, APOE ϵ4 carrier status, hydrocephalus, and seizures correlate with worse neurocognitive outcomes in pediatric cancer survivors, enriched with CNS tumors exposed to radiation. Ongoing research is underway to verify trends in larger cohorts.