Objective: Demonstrate that occupational exposure to nonhypoxic hypobaria is associated with subcortical white matter hyperintensities (WMHs) on fluid-attenuated inversion recovery magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
Methods: Eighty-three altitude chamber personnel (PHY), 105 U-2 pilots (U2P), and 148 age- controlled and health-matched doctorate degree controls (DOC) underwent high-resolution MRI. Subcortical WMH burden was quantified as count and volume of subcortical WMH lesions after transformation of images to the Talairach atlas-based stereotactic frame.
Results: Subcortical WMHs were more prevalent in PHY (volume p = 0.011/count p = 0.019) and U2P (volume p < 0.001/count p < 0.001) when compared to DOC, whereas PHY were not significantly different than U2P.
Interpretation: This study provides strong evidence that nonhypoxic hypobaric exposure may induce subcortical WMHs in a young, healthy population lacking other risk factors for WMHs and adds this occupational exposure to other environmentally related potential causes of WMHs. Ann Neurol 2014;76:719-726.
© 2014 American Neurological Association.