Current Concepts of Analysis of Cerebral White Matter Hyperintensities on Magnetic Resonance Imaging

Top Magn Reson Imaging. 2005 Dec;16(6):399-407. doi: 10.1097/01.rmr.0000245456.98029.a8.


Cerebrovascular disease is common and associated with cognitive deficits and increased risk for dementia. Until recently, only limited attention has focused on advances in imaging techniques to better define and quantify the spectrum of asymptomatic cerebrovascular disease commonly seen on magnetic resonance imaging, such as abnormal white matter signals. Abnormal signals in cerebral white matter, although nonspecific, are increased in prevalence and severity in association with aging and cerebrovascular risk factors among older individuals. The ubiquitous occurrence of these abnormal white matter signals commonly referred to as white matter hyperintensities (WMHs) and the association with cerebrovascular risk and cognitive impairment among older individuals make scientific evaluation of WMHs an important and much needed avenue of research. In this section, we review current methods of WMH analysis. Strengths and limitation of both quantitative and qualitative methods are discussed initially, followed by a brief review of current magnetic resonance imaging segmentation and mapping techniques that make it possible to assess the anatomical location of WMHs. We conclude by discussing future analytic methods designed to better understand the pathophysiology and cognitive consequences of WMHs.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Brain / pathology*
  • Cognition Disorders / pathology*
  • Dementia / pathology*
  • Demyelinating Diseases / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Image Interpretation, Computer-Assisted / methods*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / trends
  • Nerve Fibers, Myelinated / pathology*