Resistance to developing brain pathology due to vascular risk factors: the role of educational attainment

Neurobiol Aging. 2021 Oct:106:197-206. doi: 10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2021.06.006. Epub 2021 Jun 24.


Brain pathology develops at different rates between individuals with similar burden of risk factors, possibly explained by brain resistance. We examined if education contributes to brain resistance by studying its influence on the association between vascular risk factors and brain pathology. In 4111 stroke-free and dementia-free community-dwelling participants (62.9 ± 10.7 years), we explored the association between vascular risk factors (hypertension and the Framingham Stroke Risk Profile [FRSP]) and imaging markers of brain pathology (markers of cerebral small vessel disease and brain volumetry), stratified by educational attainment level. Associations of hypertension and FSRP with markers of brain pathology were not significantly different between levels of educational attainment. Certain associations appeared weaker in those with higher compared to lower educational attainment, particularly for white matter hyperintensities (WMH). Supplementary residual analyses showed significant associations between higher educational attainment and stronger resistance to WMH among others. Our results suggest a role for educational attainment in resistance to vascular brain pathology. Yet, further research is needed to better characterize determinants of brain resistance.

Keywords: Cardiovascular risk factors; Cerebral small vessel disease; Education; Epidemiology; Magnetic resonance imaging; Resistance.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Cerebral Small Vessel Diseases / diagnostic imaging
  • Cerebral Small Vessel Diseases / etiology*
  • Cerebral Small Vessel Diseases / pathology*
  • Cerebral Small Vessel Diseases / prevention & control
  • Disease Resistance*
  • Educational Status*
  • Female
  • Heart Disease Risk Factors
  • Humans
  • Independent Living
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuroimaging
  • Organ Size
  • White Matter / diagnostic imaging
  • White Matter / pathology