Neuropathologic and Cognitive Correlates of Enlarged Perivascular Spaces in a Community-Based Cohort of Older Adults

Stroke. 2020 Sep;51(9):2825-2833. doi: 10.1161/STROKEAHA.120.029388. Epub 2020 Aug 6.


Background and purpose: Enlarged perivascular spaces (EPVS) have been associated with aging, increased stroke risk, decreased cognitive function, and vascular dementia. However, the relationship of EPVS with age-related neuropathologies is not well understood. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to assess the neuropathologic correlates of EPVS in a large community-based cohort of older adults. The cognitive correlates of EPVS over and beyond those of other pathologies were also assessed.

Methods: This study included 654 older deceased and autopsied participants of 3 longitudinal community-based studies of aging that had available data on cognition, ex vivo brain magnetic resonance imaging, and detailed neuropathologic examination. EPVS seen on ex vivo magnetic resonance imaging were histologically validated. Experienced observers rated EPVS burden in ex vivo magnetic resonance imaging using a semiquantitative 4-level scale. Elastic-net regularized ordinal logistic regression was used to investigate associations of EPVS burden with age-related neuropathologies. Mixed-effects models of cognition controlling for neuropathologies, demographics, and clinical factors, were used to determine whether EPVS burden has additional contributions to cognitive decline.

Results: EPVS burden in the whole group was associated with gross infarcts (odds ratio=1.67, P=0.0017) and diabetes mellitus (odds ratio=1.73, P=0.004). When considering only nondemented participants (with mild or no cognitive impairment), EPVS burden was associated with gross infarcts (odds ratio=1.74, P=0.016) and microscopic infarcts (odds ratio=1.79, P=0.013). EPVS burden was associated with faster decline in visuospatial abilities (estimate=-0.009, P=0.028), in the whole group, as well as lower levels of semantic memory (estimate=-0.13, P=0.048) and visuospatial abilities (estimate=-0.11, P=0.016) at the time of death.

Conclusions: EPVS and infarcts may share similar neurobiological pathways regardless of dementia status. EPVS burden is linked to diabetes mellitus independently of neuropathologies, extending recent findings in animal studies implicating diabetes mellitus in impairment of the glymphatic system. Finally, EPVS burden may reflect additional brain tissue injury that may contribute to cognitive decline, not captured with traditional neuropathologic measures.

Keywords: aging; cognition; magnetic resonance imaging; neuropathology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / pathology
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Cerebral Infarction / diagnostic imaging
  • Cognitive Dysfunction*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Diabetes Complications / diagnostic imaging
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Independent Living
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Memory
  • Nervous System Diseases / pathology*
  • Nervous System Diseases / psychology*
  • Neurologic Examination
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Psychomotor Performance