Objective: Calcification in atherosclerotic plaques is a novel marker of atherosclerosis and is related to cardiovascular disease. However, its relationship with cerebrovascular disease has not been investigated extensively. We investigated the relationship between calcification in various vessel beds outside the brain and imaging markers of vascular brain disease.
Methods and results: A total of 885 community-dwelling people (mean age, 66.7 years) underwent computed tomography of the coronary arteries, aortic arch, and extracranial and intracranial carotid arteries to assess arterial calcification. Brain magnetic resonance imaging scans were performed to assess cerebral infarcts, microbleeds, and white matter lesions (WMLs). Calcification in each vessel bed was associated with presence of cerebral infarcts and with larger WML volume. The most prominent associations were found between intracranial carotid calcification and WML volume and between extracranial carotid calcification and infarcts. Adjustment for cardiovascular risk factors or ultrasound carotid plaque scores did not change these results. No associations were found between calcification and cerebral microbleeds.
Conclusions: Arterial calcification in major vessel beds is associated with vascular brain disease on magnetic resonance imaging. Most notably, larger intracranial carotid calcification load relates to larger WML volumes, and larger extracranial carotid calcification load relates to the presence of cerebral infarcts, independently of ultrasound carotid plaque score. This suggests that calcification of atherosclerotic plaque yields other information in addition to merely the presence of plaques, providing novel insights into the etiology of vascular brain disease.