Structural disconnectivity and the risk of dementia in the general population

Neurology. 2020 Sep 15;95(11):e1528-e1537. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000010231. Epub 2020 Jul 8.


Objective: The disconnectivity hypothesis postulates that partial loss of connecting white matter fibers between brain regions contributes to the development of dementia. Using diffusion MRI to quantify global and tract-specific white matter microstructural integrity, we tested this hypothesis in a longitudinal population-based study.

Methods: Global and tract-specific fractional anisotropy (FA) and mean diffusivity (MD) were obtained in 4,415 people without dementia (mean age 63.9 years, 55.0% women) from the prospective population-based Rotterdam Study with brain MRI between 2005 and 2011. We modeled the association of these diffusion measures with risk of dementia (follow-up until 2016) and with changes on repeated cognitive assessment after on average 5.4 years, adjusting for age, sex, education, macrostructural MRI markers, depressive symptoms, cardiovascular risk factors, and APOE genotype.

Results: During a median follow-up of 6.8 years, 101 participants had incident dementia, of whom 83 had clinical Alzheimer disease (AD). Lower global values of FA and higher values of MD were associated with an increased risk of dementia (adjusted hazard ratio [95% confidence interval (CI)] per SD increase for MD 1.79 [1.44-2.23] and FA 0.65 [0.52-0.80]). Similarly, lower global values of FA and higher values of MD related to more cognitive decline in people without dementia (difference in global cognition per SD increase in MD [95% CI] was -0.04 [-0.07 to -0.01]). Associations were most profound in the projection, association, and limbic system tracts.

Conclusions: Structural disconnectivity is associated with an increased risk of dementia and more pronounced cognitive decline in the general population.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging*
  • Dementia / diagnostic imaging*
  • Dementia / epidemiology*
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / trends
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nerve Net / diagnostic imaging*
  • Netherlands / epidemiology
  • Population Surveillance* / methods
  • Risk Factors