High white matter hyperintensity burden in strategic white matter tracts relates to worse global cognitive performance in community-dwelling individuals

Biesbroek, J Matthijs, Lam, Bonnie Y K, Zhao, Lei, Tang, Yumi, Wang, Zhaolu, Abrigo, Jill, Chu, Winnie W C, Wong, Adrian, Shi, Lin, Kuijf, Hugo J, Biessels, Geert Jan, Mok, Vincent C T


Journal of the Neurological Sciences 414 p. 1-6


BACKGROUND: White matter hyperintensities (WMH) are associated with cognitive impairment. The impact of WMH on cognitive domains (e.g. processing speed, executive functioning) depends on location. We determined whether the relevance of WMH location also applies to global cognitive functioning by testing if WMH in strategic white matter tracts are associated with global cognitive functioning independent of total WMH burden.

METHODS: We included 830 community-dwelling individuals. WMH volume within two a priori specified strategic white matter tracts (forceps minor and anterior thalamic radiation) were entered in a linear regression model with the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA) and Mini-Mental State Examination (MMSE) as outcome variables and corrected for total WMH volume and other MRI markers for vascular injury and neurodegenerations (i.e. brain parenchymal fraction, and the presence of lacunes and microbleeds).

RESULTS: WMH in the forceps minor and left anterior thalamic radiation inversely correlated with MoCA, and WMH in the forceps minor inversely correlated with MMSE, independent of total WMH volume and other MRI markers.

CONCLUSION: The impact of WMH on global cognitive functioning depends on location. Whether this reflects accumulated impairment in isolated cognitive domains or disruption of a network that is crucially involved in global cognitive performance remains to be determined.