Effects of Arterial Stiffness on Brain Integrity in Young Adults From the Framingham Heart Study

Stroke. 2016 Apr;47(4):1030-6. doi: 10.1161/STROKEAHA.116.012949. Epub 2016 Mar 10.


Background and purpose: Previous work from the Framingham Heart Study suggests that brain changes because of arterial aging may begin in young adulthood and that such changes precede cognitive deficits. The objective of this study was to determine the association of arterial stiffness with measures of white matter and gray matter (GM) integrity in young adults.

Methods: One thousand nine hundred three participants from the Framingham Heart Study Third Generation (mean age, 46±8.7 years) had complete tonometry measurements and brain magnetic resonance imaging (T1-weighted and diffusion tensor imaging). Tonometry measures included carotid-femoral pulse wave velocity, augmentation index, carotid-brachial pressure amplification, and central pulse pressure. Fractional anisotropy and GM density images were computed from diffusion tensor imaging and T1 images. Registration to a common anatomic template enabled voxel-based linear regressions relating measures of fractional anisotropy and GM to tonometry measures, adjusting for relevant covariables.

Results: Higher carotid-femoral pulse wave velocity was associated with lower regional fractional anisotropy, including the corpus callosum and the corona radiata (8.7 and 8.6 cc, respectively, P<0.001), as well as lower GM density in the thalamus region (0.9 cc, P<0.001). Analyses did not reveal significant associations between other tonometry measures and fractional anisotropy or GM.

Conclusions: Among young healthy adults, higher aortic stiffness was associated with measures of reduced white matter and GM integrity in areas implicated in cognitive decline and Alzheimer's disease. Greater aortic stiffness may result in subclinical vascular brain injury at ages much younger than previously described.

Keywords: blood pressure; brain; diffusion tensor imaging; magnetic resonance imaging; white matter.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Alzheimer Disease / pathology*
  • Alzheimer Disease / physiopathology
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Brain / physiopathology
  • Cognition Disorders / pathology*
  • Cognition Disorders / physiopathology
  • Female
  • Gray Matter / pathology*
  • Gray Matter / physiopathology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Vascular Stiffness / physiology*
  • White Matter / pathology*
  • White Matter / physiopathology
  • Young Adult