Sex-Related Differences in Brain Volumes and Cerebral Blood Flow Among Overweight and Obese Adults With Type 2 Diabetes: Exploratory Analyses From the Action for Health in Diabetes Brain Magnetic Resonance Imaging Study

J Gerontol A Biol Sci Med Sci. 2020 Mar 9;75(4):771-778. doi: 10.1093/gerona/glz090.


Background: Sex may be an important modifier of brain health in response to risk factors. We compared brain structure and function of older overweight and obese women and men with type 2 diabetes mellitus.

Methods: Cross-sectional cognitive assessments and magnetic resonance images were obtained in 224 women and 95 men (mean age 69 years) with histories of type 2 diabetes mellitus and overweight or obesity. Prior to magnetic resonance images, participants had completed an average of 10 years of random assignment to either multidomain intervention targeting weight loss or a control condition of diabetes support and education. Total (summed gray and white) matter volumes, white matter hyperintensity volumes, and cerebral blood flow across five brain regions of interest were analyzed using mixed-effects models.

Results: After covariate adjustment, women, compared with men, averaged 10.9 [95% confidence interval 3.3, 18.5; ≈1%] cc greater summed region of interest volumes and 1.39 [0.00002, 2.78; ≈54%] cc greater summed white matter hyperintensity volumes. Sex differences could not be attributed to risk factor profiles or intervention response. Their magnitude did not vary significantly with respect to age, body mass index, intervention assignment, or APOE-ε4 genotype. Sex differences in brain magnetic resonance images outcomes did not account for the better levels of cognitive functioning in women than men.

Conclusions: In a large cohort of older overweight or obese adults with type 2 diabetes mellitus, differences in brain volumes and white matter disease were apparent between women and men, but these did not account for a lower prevalence of cognitive impairment in women compared with men in this cohort.

Trial registration: NCT00017953.

Keywords: Brain imaging; Diabetes; Obesity; Sex.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Intramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Cerebrovascular Circulation
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / complications*
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / diagnostic imaging
  • Diabetes Mellitus, Type 2 / pathology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuroimaging
  • Obesity / complications*
  • Obesity / diagnostic imaging
  • Obesity / pathology
  • Overweight / complications*
  • Overweight / diagnostic imaging
  • Overweight / pathology
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Single-Blind Method
  • White Matter / diagnostic imaging
  • White Matter / pathology

Associated data