Arterial stiffness and white matter integrity in the elderly: A diffusion tensor and magnetization transfer imaging study

Neuroimage. 2019 Feb 1:186:577-585. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2018.11.015. Epub 2018 Nov 16.


Background and purpose: The stiffness of large arteries and increased pulsatility can have an impact on the brain white matter (WM) microstructure, however those mechanisms are still poorly understood. The aim of this study was to investigate the association between central artery stiffness, axonal and myelin integrity in 54 cognitively unimpaired elderly subjects (65-75 years old).

Methods: The neuronal fiber integrity of brain WM was assessed using diffusion tensor metrics and magnetization transfer imaging as measures of axonal organization (Fractional anisotropy, Radial diffusivity) and state of myelination (Myelin volume fraction). Central artery stiffness was measured by carotid-femoral pulse wave velocity (cfPWV). Statistical analyses included 4 regions (the corpus callosum, the internal capsule, the corona radiata and the superior longitudinal fasciculus) which have been previously denoted as vulnerable to increased central artery stiffness.

Results: cfPWV was significantly associated with fractional anisotropy and radial diffusivity (p < 0.05, corrected for multiple comparisons) but not with myelin volume fraction. Findings from this study also show that improved executive function performance correlates with Fractional anisotropy positively (p < 0.05 corrected) as well as with myelin volume fraction and radial diffusivity negatively (p < 0.05 corrected).

Conclusions: These findings suggest that arterial stiffness is associated with axon degeneration rather than demyelination. Controlling arterial stiffness may play a role in maintaining the health of WM axons in the aging brain.

Keywords: Aging; Arterial stiffness; DTI; Diffusion; FA; ICBM; International Consortium for Brain Mapping; MLR; MRI; MT; MVF; Magnetic resonance imaging; Pulse wave velocity; RD; SBP; TMTA and B; TOI; Tract of interest; Trail Making Test parts A and B; WM; White matter; carotid-femoral pulse wave; cfPWV; diffusion tensor imaging; fractional anisotropy; magnetization transfer; multiple linear regression; myelin volume fraction; radial diffusivity; systolic blood pressure.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging* / pathology
  • Aging* / physiology
  • Arteries / diagnostic imaging*
  • Axons* / pathology
  • Diffusion Tensor Imaging / methods
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Male
  • Myelin Sheath* / pathology
  • Pulse Wave Analysis / methods*
  • Vascular Stiffness* / physiology
  • White Matter / diagnostic imaging*
  • White Matter / pathology