A clinical impact of cognitive reserve (CR) has been demonstrated in Alzheimer's disease, whereas its role in vascular cognitive impairment (VCI) is largely unknown. In this study, we investigated the impact of CR in patients with cerebral autosomal dominant arteriopathy with subcortical infarcts and leukoencephalopathy (CADASIL), a genetic variant of pure VCI. A total of 247 NOTCH3 mutation carriers from a two-center study were investigated using detailed neuropsychological and neuroimaging protocols. CR was operationalized as years of formal education. Brain pathology was assessed by MRI using normalized brain volume and lacunar lesion volume as proxies. Multivariate analyses were done for each structural measure with scores of processing speed, executive function, and memory as dependent variables. Additional linear regression models were conducted with interaction terms for education × brain volume and education × lacunar lesion volume. Education had an independent impact on cognitive performance in subjects with mild and moderate degrees of brain pathology, whereas there was no significant influence of education on cognition in patients with severe MRI changes. This interaction was found for processing speed, the cognitive domain most impaired in our patients. Our findings demonstrate an interaction of education and brain pathology in regard to cognitive impairment: the effect of education seems most pronounced in early disease stages but may ultimately be overwhelmed by the pathological changes. The results extend the concept of CR to VCI.
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