Watershed microinfarct pathology and cognition in older persons

Neurobiol Aging. 2018 Oct;70:10-17. doi: 10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2018.05.027. Epub 2018 May 30.


Brain microinfarcts are common in aging and are associated with cognitive impairment. Anterior and posterior watershed border zones lie at the territories of the anterior, middle, and posterior cerebral arteries, and are more vulnerable to hypoperfusion than brain regions outside the watershed areas. However, little is known about microinfarcts in these regions and how they relate to cognition in aging. Participants from the Rush Memory and Aging Project, a community-based clinical-pathologic study of aging, underwent detailed annual cognitive evaluations. We examined 356 consecutive autopsy cases (mean age-at-death, 91 years [SD = 6.16]; 28% men) for microinfarcts from 3 watershed brain regions (2 anterior and 1 posterior) and 8 brain regions outside the watershed regions. Linear regression models were used to examine the association of cortical watershed microinfarcts with cognition, including global cognition and 5 cognitive domains. Microinfarcts in any region were present in 133 (37%) participants, of which 50 had microinfarcts in watershed regions. Persons with multiple microinfarcts in cortical watershed regions had lower global cognition (estimate = -0.56, standard error (SE) = 0.26, p = 0.03) and lower cognitive function in the specific domains of working memory (estimate = -0.58, SE = 0.27, p = 0.03) and visuospatial abilities (estimate = -0.57, SE = 0.27, p = 0.03), even after controlling for microinfarcts in other brain regions, demographics, and age-related pathologies. Neither the presence nor multiplicity of microinfarcts in brain regions outside the cortical watershed regions were related to global cognition or any of the 5 cognitive domains. These findings suggest that multiple microinfarcts in watershed regions contribute to age-related cognitive impairment.

Keywords: Brain watershed regions; Cognition; Microinfarcts; Vascular pathology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging*
  • Brain Infarction / pathology*
  • Brain Infarction / psychology*
  • Cognition*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory
  • Neuropsychological Tests