Background and purpose: Many neurological or psychiatric diseases affect the hippocampus during aging. The study of hippocampal regional vulnerability may provide important insights into the pathophysiological mechanisms underlying these processes; however, little is known about the specific impact of vascular brain damage on hippocampal subfields atrophy.
Methods: To analyze the effect of vascular injuries independently of other pathological conditions, we studied a population-based cohort of nondemented older adults, after the exclusion of people who were diagnosed with neurodegenerative diseases during the 14-year clinical follow-up period. Using an automated segmentation pipeline, 1.5T-magnetic resonance imaging at inclusion and 4 years later were assessed to measure both white matter hyperintensities and hippocampal subfields volume. Annualized rates of white matter hyperintensity progression and annualized rates of hippocampal subfields atrophy were then estimated in each participant.
Results: We included 249 participants in our analyses (58% women, mean age 71.8, median Mini-Mental State Evaluation 29). The volume of the subiculum at baseline was the only hippocampal subfield volume associated with total, deep/subcortical, and periventricular white matter hyperintensity volumes, independently of demographic variables and vascular risk factors (β=-0.17, P=0.011; β=-0.25, P=0.020 and β=-0.14, P=0.029, respectively). In longitudinal measures, the annualized rate of subiculum atrophy was significantly higher in people with the highest rate of deep/subcortical white matter hyperintensity progression, independently of confounding factors (β=-0.32, P=0.014).
Conclusions: These cross-sectional and longitudinal findings highlight the links between vascular brain injuries and a differential vulnerability of the subiculum within the hippocampal loop, unbiased of the effect of neurodegenerative diseases, and particularly when vascular injuries affect deep/subcortical structures.
Keywords: aging; atrophy; demography; hippocampus; risk factors.