Background: Metabolic Syndrome (MetSd) is a cluster of vascular risk factors that may influence cerebrovascular pathology during aging. Recently, microstructural white matter (WM) changes detected by diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) and processing speed deficits have been reported in MetSd patients. We aimed to test the relationship between WM alteration and cognitive impairment in these patients.
Methods: The sample comprised 38 subjects (19 patients aged between 50 and 80 years old, and 19 controls). All patients fulfilled National Cholesterol Education Program Adult Treatment Panel III (NCEP ATP-III) criteria for MetSd. Speed of information processing was measured by the Symbol Digit Modalities Test (SDMT) and reaction time (RT) on the Continuous Performance Test (CPT-II) and the Grooved Pegboard Test (GPT). DTI images were acquired in a 3 Tesla Siemens Trio scanner. Voxelwise statistical analysis of the fractional anisotropy (FA) data was performed using the Tract-Based Spatial Statistics part of the FMRIB Software Library. A correlation analysis was performed between processing speed variables and FA values.
Results: There was a larger proportion of slow subjects (percentile below 25th) in the patient group (Chi2 = 7.125 p = 0.008). FA values correlated positively with SDMT in anterior and posterior parts of the corpus callosum, and RT CPT-II correlated negatively with FA values in the anterior corpus callosum (p < 0.05 corrected) in the patient group.
Conclusion: We found significant correlations between WM alterations and cognitive impairment in MetSd patients, especially in the frontal lobe. These findings highlight the importance of MetSd prevention and control due to its association with structural and functional damage in the central nervous system.