Spinal Arteriolosclerosis Is Common in Older Adults and Associated With Parkinsonism

Stroke. 2017 Oct;48(10):2792-2798. doi: 10.1161/STROKEAHA.117.017643. Epub 2017 Sep 20.


Background and purpose: There are few studies of spinal microvascular pathologies in older adults. We characterized spinal cord microvascular pathologies and examined their associations with other spinal and brain postmortem indices and parkinsonism in older adults.

Methods: We documented 3 features of microvascular pathologies in spinal cord and brain specimens from 165 deceased older participants. We also measured spinal white matter pallor. Parkinsonian signs were assessed with a modified version of the motor section of the Unified Parkinson's Disease Rating Scale. We examined the associations of spinal arteriolosclerosis with other spinal and brain postmortem indices and parkinsonism proximate to death using regression models which controlled for age and sex.

Results: Microinfarcts and cerebral amyloid angiopathy were not observed within the spinal cord parenchyma. Spinal arteriolosclerosis was observed at all spinal levels (C7, T7, L4, S4) examined and was more severe posteriorly than anteriorly (posterior: 4.3, SD=0.72 versus anterior: 3.9, SD=0.74; t=14.58; P<0.001). Arteriolosclerosis was more severe in the spinal cord than in the brain (cord: 4.10, SD=0.70; brain: 3.5, SD=0.98; t=10.39; P<0.001). The severity of spinal arteriolosclerosis was associated with spinal white matter pallor (r=0.47; P<0.001). Spinal arteriolosclerosis accounted for ≈3% of the variation in parkinsonism in models controlling for age, sex, brain arteriolosclerosis, and cerebrovascular disease pathologies. Further models showed that the association of spinal arteriolosclerosis and parkinsonism was not mediated via spinal white matter pallor.

Conclusions: Although the regional distribution of microvascular pathologies varies within the central nervous system, spinal arteriolosclerosis is common and may contribute to the severity of spinal white matter pallor and parkinsonism in older adults.

Keywords: aging; arteriolosclerosis; cerebrovascular disease; parkinsonism; spinal cord.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / pathology*
  • Arteriolosclerosis / mortality
  • Arteriolosclerosis / pathology*
  • Brain / blood supply
  • Brain / pathology
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Microvessels / pathology*
  • Parkinsonian Disorders / mortality
  • Parkinsonian Disorders / pathology*
  • Spinal Cord / blood supply
  • Spinal Cord / pathology*