Remote Lower White Matter Integrity Increases the Risk of Long-Term Cognitive Impairment After Ischemic Stroke in Young Adults

Stroke. 2016 Oct;47(10):2517-25. doi: 10.1161/STROKEAHA.116.014356. Epub 2016 Sep 13.


Background and purpose: Poststroke cognitive impairment occurs frequently in young patients with ischemic stroke (18 through 50 years of age). Accumulating data suggest that stroke is associated with lower white matter integrity remote from the stroke impact area, which might explain why some patients have good long-term cognitive outcome and others do not. Given the life expectancy of decades in young patients, we therefore investigated remote white matter in relation to long-term cognitive function.

Methods: We included all consecutive first-ever ischemic stroke patients, left/right hemisphere, without recurrent stroke or transient ischemic attack during follow-up, aged 18 through 50 years, admitted to our university medical center between 1980 and 2010. One hundred seventeen patients underwent magnetic resonance imaging scanning including a T1-weighted scan, a diffusion tensor imaging scan, and completed a neuropsychological assessment. Patients were compared with a matched stroke-free control group (age, sex, and education matched). Cognitive impairment was defined as >1.5 SD below the mean cognitive index score of controls and no cognitive impairment as ≤1 SD. Tract-Based Spatial Statistics was used to assess the white matter integrity (fractional anisotropy and mean diffusivity).

Results: About 11 years after ischemic stroke, lower remote white matter integrity was associated with a worse long-term cognitive performance. A lower remote white matter integrity, even in the contralesional hemisphere, was observed in cognitively impaired patients (n=25) compared with cognitively unimpaired patients (n=71).

Conclusions: These findings indicate that although stroke has an acute onset, it might have long lasting effects on remote white matter integrity and thereby increases the risk of long-term cognitive impairment.

Keywords: diffusion tensor imaging; neuropsychological tests; stroke; white matter.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain Ischemia / complications*
  • Brain Ischemia / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain Ischemia / pathology
  • Cognition Disorders / diagnostic imaging
  • Cognition Disorders / etiology*
  • Cognition Disorders / pathology
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / diagnostic imaging
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / etiology*
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / pathology
  • Diffusion Tensor Imaging
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Prognosis
  • Stroke / complications*
  • Stroke / diagnostic imaging
  • Stroke / pathology
  • White Matter / diagnostic imaging
  • White Matter / pathology*
  • Young Adult