Diffusion tensor imaging, intracranial vascular resistance and cognition in middle-aged asymptomatic subjects

Jorge López-Olóriz, Elena López-Cancio, Juan F Arenillas, María Hernández, Laura Dorado, Rosalía Dacosta-Aguayo, Maite Barrios, Juan José Soriano-Raya, Júlia Miralbell, Núria Bargalló, Cynthia Cáceres, Pere Torán, Maite Alzamora, Antonio Dávalos, Maria Mataró
Cerebrovascular Diseases 2014, 38 (1): 24-30

BACKGROUND: The contribution of traditional vascular risk factors to cognitive impairment and dementia is well known. However, in order to obtain possible targets for prevention of vascular cognitive impairment (VCI), it may be important to identify other early and noninvasive markers in asymptomatic middle-aged adults. The calculation of middle cerebral artery-pulsatility index (MCA-PI) is an ultrasonologic, noninvasive, validated and easily reproducible technique to assess increased distal resistance to blood flow. This study aims to assess the relationship between MCA-PI, microstructural white matter (WM) integrity and cognition in a middle-aged asymptomatic population.

METHODS: Ninety-five participants from the Barcelona-Asymptomatic Intracranial Atherosclerosis (AsIA) neuropsychology study were included. Subjects were 50-65 years old, free from dementia and without history of vascular disease. Transcranial color-coded duplex ultrasound examination was performed to assess MCA-PI as a measure of vascular resistance. WM integrity was evaluated by fractional anisotropy (FA) measurements of diffusion tensor images (DTI) acquired on a 3T-MRI. The neuropsychological battery was specifically selected to be sensitive to VCI, and included tests that were grouped into six cognitive domains: executive functioning, attention, verbal fluency, memory, visuospatial skills and psychomotor speed. A multivariate linear regression model adjusted for age, gender, years of education, diabetes and hypertension was performed.

RESULTS: MCA-PI was significantly associated with WM disintegration in different tracts (fornix, corticospinal and anterior thalamic), all p < 0.05 uncorrected. Both mean MCA-PI and mean FA of those significant tracts were independently associated with poor performance in attention, psychomotor speed, and visuospatial skills after adjustment for age, gender, years of education, and vascular risk factors (all p < 0.05). MCA-PI was independently associated with lower scores in all cognitive domains, except for visuospatial skills.

CONCLUSIONS: Our data suggest that MCA-PI may be related to WM disintegration and early vascular cognitive impairment in middle-aged subjects. Although further prospective studies are needed to provide evidence for its validity in longitudinal studies, our results support the proposal of including MCA-PI as part of clinical assessment in order to identify targets for VCI prevention.

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