Progression of central nervous system disease from pediatric to young adulthood in sickle cell anemia

Exp Biol Med (Maywood). 2021 Dec;246(23):2473-2479. doi: 10.1177/15353702211035778. Epub 2021 Aug 18.


Silent cerebral infarcts and arteriopathy are common and progressive in individuals with sickle cell anemia. However, most data describing brain lesions in sickle cell anemia are cross-sectional or derive from pediatric cohorts with short follow-up. We investigated the progression of silent cerebral infarct and cerebral vessel stenosis on brain MRI and MRA, respectively, by describing the incidence of new or worsening lesions over a period of up to 25 years among young adults with sickle cell anemia and explored risk factors for progression. Forty-four adults with sickle cell anemia (HbSS or HbSβ0thalassemia), exposed to chronic transfusions (n = 12) or hydroxyurea (n = 32), median age 19.2 years (range 18.0-31.5), received a screening brain MRI/MRA and their results were compared with a clinical exam performed during childhood and adolescence. We used exact log-rank test to compare MRI and MRA progression among any two groups. The hazard ratio (HR) and 95% confidence interval (CI) were calculated from Cox regression analyses. Progression of MRI and MRA occurred in 12 (27%) and 4 (9%) young adults, respectively, relative to their pediatric exams. MRI progression risk was high among participants with abnormal pediatric exams (HR: 11.6, 95% CI: 2.5-54.7) and conditional or abnormal transcranial Doppler ultrasound velocities (HR: 3.9, 95% CI: 1.0-15.1). Among individuals treated with hydroxyurea, high fetal hemoglobin measured in childhood was associated with lower hazard of MRI progression (HR: 0.86, 95% CI: 0.76-0.98). MRA progression occurred more frequently among those with prior stroke (HR: 8.6, 95% CI: 1.2-64), abnormal pediatric exam (P = 0.00084), and elevated transcranial Doppler ultrasound velocities (P = 0.004). Brain MRI/MRA imaging in pediatrics can identify high-risk patients for CNS disease progression in young adulthood, prompting consideration for early aggressive treatments.

Trial registration: NCT02098863.

Keywords: Stroke; disease-modifying therapy; sickle cell anemia; silent cerebral infarct; vasculopathy; young adult.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Anemia, Sickle Cell / drug therapy
  • Anemia, Sickle Cell / pathology*
  • Antisickling Agents / therapeutic use
  • Blood Transfusion, Autologous
  • Brain / blood supply*
  • Brain / pathology
  • Central Nervous System Diseases / pathology*
  • Cerebral Infarction / pathology*
  • Disease Progression
  • Erythrocyte Transfusion
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hydroxyurea / therapeutic use
  • Magnetic Resonance Angiography
  • Male
  • Risk Factors
  • Stroke / pathology*
  • Ultrasonography, Doppler, Transcranial
  • Young Adult


  • Antisickling Agents
  • Hydroxyurea

Associated data