Cerebral pulsatility reflects a balance between the transmission and damping of pulsatility in the cerebrovasculature. Females experience greater cerebral pulsatility with aging, which may have implications for sex differences in stroke risk and cognitive decline. This study sought to explore vascular contributors to cerebral pulsatility and pulsatile damping in men and women. Adults (n = 282, 53% female) underwent measurements of cerebral (middle cerebral artery) pulsatility, pulsatile damping (ratio of cerebral to carotid pulsatility), large artery stiffening (ratio of aortic to carotid pulse wave velocity), and carotid wave transmission/reflection dynamics using wave intensity analysis. Multiple regression revealed that older age, female sex, greater large artery stiffening, higher carotid pulse pressure, and greater forward wave energy was associated with increased cerebral pulsatility (adjusted R2 = 0.44, P < 0.05). Contributors to decreased cerebral pulsatile damping included older age, female sex, and lower wave reflection index (adjusted R2 = 0.51, P < 0.05). Our data link greater large artery stiffening, carotid pulse pressure, and forward wave energy to greater cerebral pulsatility, while greater carotid wave reflection may enhance cerebral pulsatile damping. Lower cerebral pulsatile damping among females may contribute to greater age-associated cerebral pulsatile burden compared with males.NEW & NOTEWORTHY Cerebral pulsatility contributes to brain health and depends on a balance between transmission and damping of pulsatile hemodynamics into the cerebrovasculature. Our data indicate that cerebral pulsatility increases with age, female sex, extracranial artery stiffening, forward wave energy, and pulse pressure, whereas pulsatile damping decreases with age and female sex and increases with greater carotid wave reflections. These novel data identify pulsatile damping as a potential contributor to sex differences in cerebral pulsatile burden.
Keywords: aging; artery stiffness; pulsatile damping; pulsatility; sex differences; wave reflections.