Neuroimaging in Vascular Cognitive Impairment and Dementia: A Systematic Review

J Alzheimers Dis. 2020;73(4):1279-1294. doi: 10.3233/JAD-191046.


Cerebrovascular diseases are well established causes of cognitive impairment. Different etiologic entities, such as vascular dementia (VaD), vascular cognitive impairment, subcortical (ischemic) VaD, and vascular cognitive disorder, are included in the umbrella definition of vascular cognitive impairment and dementia (VCID). Because of the variability of VCID clinical presentation, there is no agreement on criteria defining the neuropathological threshold of this disorder. In fact, VCID is characterized by cerebral hemodynamic alteration which ranges from decreased cerebral blood flow to small vessels disease and involves a multifactorial process that leads to demyelination and gliosis, including blood-brain barrier disruption, hypoxia, and hypoperfusion, oxidative stress, neuroinflammation and alteration on neurovascular unit coupling, cerebral microbleeds, or superficial siderosis. Numerous criteria for the definition of VaD have been described: the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke Association Internationale pour Recherche'-et-l'Enseignement en Neurosciences criteria, the State of California Alzheimer's Disease Diagnostic and Treatment Centers criteria, DSM-V criteria, the Diagnostic Criteria for Vascular Cognitive Disorders (a VASCOG Statement), and Vascular Impairment of Cognition Classification Consensus Study. Neuroimaging is fundamental for definition and diagnosis of VCID and should be used to assess the extent, location, and type of vascular lesions. MRI is the most sensible technique, especially if used according to standardized protocols, even if CT plays an important role in several conditions. Functional neuroimaging, in particular functional MRI and PET, may facilitate differential diagnosis among different forms of dementia. This systematic review aims to explore the state of the art and future perspective of non-invasive diagnostics of VCID.

Keywords: Brain vascular disorders; MRI; PET; functional neuroimaging; neuroimaging; vascular dementia.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Cognition Disorders / diagnostic imaging
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / diagnostic imaging*
  • Dementia, Vascular / diagnostic imaging*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Neuroimaging / methods*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Positron-Emission Tomography