Neuroimaging anomalies in asymptomatic middle cerebral artery steno-occlusive disease with normal-appearing white matter

Front Neurol. 2023 Aug 24:14:1206786. doi: 10.3389/fneur.2023.1206786. eCollection 2023.


Background: Asymptomatic chronic cerebrovascular steno-occlusive disease is common, but the cognitive function and alterations in the brain's structural and functional profiles have not been well studied. This study aimed to reveal whether and how patients with asymptomatic middle cerebral artery (MCA) steno-occlusive disease and normal-appearing white matter differ in brain structural and functional profiles from normal controls and their correlations with cognitive function.

Methods: In all, 26 patients with asymptomatic MCA steno-occlusive disease and 22 healthy controls were compared for neurobehavioral assessments, brain volume, cortical thickness, fiber connectivity density (FiCD) value, and resting-state functional connectivity (FC) using multimodal MRI. We also investigated the associations between abnormal cortical thicknesses, FiCD values, and functional connectivities with the neurobehavioral assessments.

Results: Patients performed worse on memory tasks (Auditory Verbal Learning Test-Huashan version) compared with healthy controls. Patients were divided into two groups: the right group (patients with right MCA steno-occlusive disease) and the left group (patients with left MCA steno-occlusive disease). The left group showed significant cortical thinning in the left superior parietal lobule, while the right group showed significant cortical thinning in the right superior parietal lobule and caudal portion of the right middle frontal gyrus. Increased FiCD values in the superior frontal region of the left hemisphere were observed in the left group. In addition, a set of interhemispheric and intrahemispheric FC showed a significant decrease or increase in both the left and right groups. Many functional connectivity profiles were positively correlated with cognitive scores. No correlation was found between cortical thickness, FiCD values, and cognitive scores.

Conclusion: Even if the patients with MCA steno-occlusive disease were asymptomatic and had normal-appearing white matter, their cognitive function and structural and functional profiles had changed, especially the FC. Alterations in FC may be an important mechanism underlying the neurodegenerative process in patients with asymptomatic MCA steno-occlusive disease before structural changes occur, so FC assessment may promote the detection of network alterations, which may be used as a biomarker of disease progression and therapeutic efficacy evaluation in these patients.

Keywords: cortical thickness; diffusion tensor imaging; functional connectivity; functional magnetic resonance imaging; middle cerebral artery.