Association of Cerebral Hemodynamics and Anemia on Processing Speed in Adults with Sickle Cell Disease

J Neurol Exp Neural Sci. 2023;5(1):150. doi: 10.29011/2577-1442.100050. Epub 2023 Jul 24.


Background and purpose: Compared to healthy controls, adult patients with Sickle Cell Disease (SCD) are anemic, and therefore have higher cardiac output and Cerebral Blood Flow (CBF) to maintain brain oxygenation. They also demonstrate comparatively more cognitive deficits due to either overt strokes or silent cerebral ischemia. However, there are few correlative studies between CBF and cognitive deficits, specifically processing speed in SCD. Such studies are important to develop biomarkers of central brain processing and ischemia for diagnosis, prognosis, and evaluating the effectiveness of potential interventions. This pilot cross-sectional study tested the hypotheses that adults with SCD and elevated CBF demonstrate lower central brain processing speed than controls on average and that CBF is inversely correlated with processing speed.

Methods: We conducted a pilot cross-sectional study to assess the relation-ships between CBF, central brain processing speed, and hemoglobin levels in asymptomatic adults with SCD and controls from an urban academic medical center. MRI acquisitions at 3T consisted of 2D phase-contrast quantitative arteriograms (Qflow) of the bilateral internal carotid and vertebral arteries and 3D pseudo-continuous arterial spin labeling (pCASL) of the brain. Participants were patients with SCD (hemoglobin [Hb]SS, [Hb] SBetaThal°, or [Hb]SC) aged 22-52 years of African American descent (N=7) or community controls (Hb AA) (n=3). Processing speed was assessed as an in-direct functional marker of ischemia using a recommended test from the NIH Toolbox for Assessment of Neurological and Behavioral Function, the Pattern Comparison Processing Speed Test. t-tests were used to compare means of CBF, hemoglobin, and cognition between SCD patients and healthy controls. Among SCD patients only multivariate correla-tions were used to evaluate relationships between brain perfusion in specific brain regions vs. processing speed and CBF. The significance level was set at p≤0.05.

Results: Adults with SCD reported higher CBF compared to healthy con-trols (72.15±28.90 vs. 47.23±12.30 ml/min/100g, p=0.04), and lower hemoglobin concentration (8.64±2.33 vs. 13.33±0.58, p=0.001). Heart rate in SCD patients was higher than in controls (86.29±1.37 vs. 74.00±2.10, p=0.04). Patients with SCD demonstrated lower processing speed (96.14±21.04 vs.123±13.74, p=0.02) than controls. Among adult patients with SCD, perfusion in specific regions of the brain showed an inverse relationship with processing speed, as did whole-brain CBF (p=0.0325).

Conclusion: These findings, although from a small sample, lend a degree of validity to the claim that processing speed is slower in people with SCD than in controls and that CBF is significantly higher in SCD patients com-pared to controls. The results also lend credence to the finding that the degree of processing speed deficiencies among adults with SCD is correlated with the degree of elevated CBF, which is known to correspond with the degree of anemia associated with SCD.

Keywords: Arterial Spin Labelling; Cerebral Blood Flow; Hemodynamic; Processing Speed; Sickle Cell Disease.