White matter changes (WMC) are common magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) findings, particularly in the elderly. Recent studies such as the Leukoaraiosis and Disability Study (LADIS) have found that WMC relate to adverse outcomes including cognitive impairment, depression, disability, unsteadiness and falls in cross-sectional and follow-up studies. Frontostriatal (or frontosubcortical) brain circuits may serve many of these functions, with the caudate nuclei playing a role in convergence of cognitive functions. This study aimed to determine whether reduced caudate volume relates to cognitive functions (executive functions, memory functions and speed of processing) and WMC. We determined caudate nuclei volumes, through manual tracing, on a subgroup of the LADIS study (n=66) from four centres with baseline and 3-year follow-up MRI scans. Regression analysis was used to assess relationships between caudate volume, cognitive function and WMC. Severity of WMC did not relate to caudate volume. Smaller caudate volumes were significantly associated with poorer executive functioning at baseline and at 3 years, but were not associated with scores of memory or speed of processing. Thus, in patients with WMC, a surrogate of small vessel disease, caudate atrophy relates to the dysexecutive syndrome, supporting the role of caudate as an important part of the frontostriatal circuit.
Keywords: Caudate nucleus; Cerebrovascular disease; Executive functioning; MRI.
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