Chronic white matter structural injury is a risk factor for poor long-term outcomes after acute ischemic stroke (AIS). However, it is unclear how white matter structural injury predisposes to poor outcomes after AIS. To explore this question, in 42 AIS patients with moderate to severe white matter hyperintensity (WMH) burden, we characterized WMH and normal-appearing white matter (NAWM) diffusivity anisotropy metrics in the hemisphere contralateral to acute ischemia in relation to ischemic tissue and early functional outcomes. All patients underwent brain MRI with dynamic susceptibility contrast perfusion and diffusion tensor imaging within 12 h and at day 3-5 post stroke. Early neurological outcomes were measured as the change in NIH Stroke Scale score from admission to day 3-5 post stroke. Target mismatch profile, percent mismatch lost, infarct growth, and rates of good perfusion were measured to assess ischemic tissue outcomes. NAWM mean diffusivity was significantly lower in the group with early neurological improvement (ENI, 0.79 vs. 0.82 × 10-3, mm2/s; P = 0.02). In multivariable logistic regression, NAWM mean diffusivity was an independent radiographic predictor of ENI (β = - 17.6, P = 0.037). Median infarct growth was 118% (IQR 26.8-221.9%) despite good reperfusion being observed in 65.6% of the cohort. NAWM and WMH diffusivity metrics were not associated with target mismatch profile, percent mismatch lost, or infarct growth. Our results suggest that, in AIS patients, white matter structural integrity is associated with poor early neurological outcomes independent of ischemic tissue outcomes.
Keywords: Diffusion tensor imaging; Ischemic stroke; Leukoaraiosis; Stroke outcomes.