Smoking and white matter hyperintensity progression: the ARIC-MRI Study

Neurology. 2015 Feb 24;84(8):841-8. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000001283. Epub 2015 Jan 28.


Objective: Our objective was to examine the link between smoking and smoking history, including smoking intensity and cessation, overall and by race, in a biracial prospective cohort study.

Methods: A subset of Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Study participants (n = 972, 49% black) completed brain MRI scans twice (1993-1995 and 2004-2006). We defined white matter hyperintensity (WMH) progression as an increase of ≥2 points on the 9-point Cardiovascular Health Study scale across scans. Participants reported information on smoking behavior at the baseline MRI and at 2 prior study visits, approximately 3 and 6 years before baseline. We used adjusted logistic regression to evaluate the association between smoking variables and WMH progression in the total sample and separately by race (black and white).

Results: We found WMH progression in 23% of participants (30% of black participants, 17% of white participants). Overall, being a current smoker 6 years before baseline was associated with WMH progression. In race-stratified analyses, we found adverse associations with smoking status at multiple time points and persistent smoking in white but not in black participants. However, we found no statistical support for effect modification by race for most of these analyses. Increasing pack-years of smoking was associated with greater risk of WMH progression, while time since quitting and age at smoking initiation were not associated with WMH progression, with little indication of differences in these associations by race.

Conclusions: Our findings concur with previous studies suggesting a relationship between smoking and WMH progression, and further demonstrate a dose-dependent association.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Black People / ethnology*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Disease Progression*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intracranial Arteriosclerosis / diagnosis
  • Intracranial Arteriosclerosis / ethnology
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging* / trends
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Population Surveillance / methods
  • Prospective Studies
  • Risk Factors
  • Smoking / adverse effects
  • Smoking / ethnology*
  • White Matter / pathology*
  • White People / ethnology*