April 12, 2021

White Matter Hyperintensities, Grey Matter Atrophy, and Cognitive Decline in Neurodegenerative Diseases

Introduction: White matter hyperintensities (WMHs) as seen on T2w and FLAIR scans represent small-vessel disease related changes in the brain. WMHs are associated with cognitive decline in the normal aging population in general and more specifically in patients with neurodegenerative diseases. In this study, we assessed the different spatial patterns and relationships between WMHs and grey matter (GM) atrophy in normal aging, individuals with mild cognitive impairment (MCI), Alzheimers dementia (AD), fronto-temporal dementia (FTD), and de novo Parkinsons disease (PD). Methods: Imaging and clinical data were obtained from 3 large multi-center databases: The Alzheimers Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI), the frontotemporal lobar degeneration neuroimaging initiative (NIFD), and the Parkinsons Progression Markers Initiative (PPMI). WMHs and GM atrophy maps were measured in normal controls (N= 571), MCI (N= 577), AD (N= 222), FTD (N= 144), and PD (N= 363). WMHs were segmented using T1w and T2w/PD or FLAIR images and mapped onto 45 white matter tracts using the Yeh WM atlas. GM volume was estimated from the Jacobian determinant of the nonlinear deformation field required to map the subject MRI to a standard template. The CerebrA atlas was used to obtain volume estimates in 84 GM regions. Mixed effects models were used to compare WMH in different WM tracts and volume of multiple GM structures between patients and controls, assess the relationship between regional WMHs and GM loss for each disease, and investigate their impact on cognition. Results: MCI, AD, and FTD patients had significantly higher WMH loads than the matched controls. There was no significant difference in WMHs between PD and controls. For each cohort, significant interactions between WMH load and GM atrophy were found for several regions and tracts, reflecting additional contribution of WMH burden to GM atrophy. While these associations were more relevant for insular and parieto-occipital regions in MCI and AD cohorts, WMH burden in FTD subjects had greater impact on frontal and basal ganglia atrophy. Finally, we found additional contribution of WMH burden to cognitive deficits in AD and FTD subjects compared with matched controls, whereas their impact on cognitive performance in MCI and PD were not significantly different from controls. Conclusions: WMHs occur more extensively in MCI, AD, and FTD patients than age-matched normal controls. WMH burden on WM tracts also correlates with regional GM atrophy in regions anatomically and functionally related to those tracts, suggesting a potential involvement of WMHs in the neurodegenerative process.

 bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience

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