Background: Systemic inflammation is associated with ischemia and Alzheimer disease (AD). We hypothesized that inflammatory biomarkers would be associated with neuroimaging markers of ischemia (i.e., white matter hyperintensities [WMH]) and AD (i.e., total brain volume [TCB]).
Methods: MRI WMH and TCB were quantified on 1,926 Framingham Offspring participants free from clinical stroke, TIA, or dementia (mean age 60 +/- 9 years; range 35 to 85 years; 54% women) who underwent measurement of a circulating inflammatory marker panel, including CD40 ligand, C-reactive protein, interleukin-6 (IL-6), soluble intracellular adhesion molecule-1, monocyte chemoattractant protein-1, myeloperoxidase, osteoprotegerin (OPG), P-selectin, tumor necrosis factor-alpha (TNFalpha), and tumor necrosis factor receptor II. To account for head size, both TCB (TCBV) and WMH (WMH/TCV) were divided by total cranial volume. We used multivariable linear regression to relate 10 log-transformed inflammatory biomarkers to brain MRI measures.
Results: In multivariable models, inflammatory markers as a group were associated with TCBV (p < 0.0001) but not WMH/TCV (p = 0.28). In stepwise models adjusted for clinical covariates with backwards elimination of markers, IL-6 and OPG were inversely associated with TCBV; TNFalpha was inversely related to TCBV in a subset of 1,430 participants. Findings were similar in analyses excluding individuals with prevalent cardiovascular disease. The relations between TCBV and inflammatory markers were modified by both sex and age, and generally were more pronounced in men and in older individuals.
Conclusions: Although our observational cross-sectional data cannot establish causality, they are consistent with the hypothesis that higher inflammatory markers are associated with greater atrophy than expected for age.