Skip to content

Asymptomatic atherosclerosis linked to cognitive impairment in first large-scale study.

In a study of nearly 2,000 adults, researchers found that a buildup of plaque in the body’s major arteries was associated with mild cognitive impairment. Results of the study conducted at the University of Texas (UT) Southwestern Medical Center will be presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (RSNA).

It is well established that plaque buildup in the arteries is a predictor of heart disease, but the relationship between atherosclerosis and brain health is less clear. The findings suggest that atherosclerosis not only affects the heart but also brain health.

Atherosclerosis is a condition in which fat, cholesterol and other substances collect in the arteries, forming a substance called plaque that can build up, limiting blood flow. It can occur in any artery of the body, including the carotid, which supplies blood to the brain, coronary arteries and the aorta, which carries oxygenated blood from the heart through the abdomen to the rest of body.

In the study, researchers analyzed the test results of 1,903 participants (mean age, 44 years) in the Dallas Heart Study, a multiethnic population-based study of adults from Dallas County, Texas. The participants included both men and women who had no symptoms of cardiovascular disease.

Study participants completed the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA), a 30-point standardized test for detecting mild cognitive impairment, and underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain to identify white matter hyperintensity (WMH) volume. Bright white spots known as high signal intensity areas on a brain MR images indicate abnormal changes within the white matter.

Increased white matter hyperintensity volume is part of the normal aging process.  But excessive WMH volume is a marker for cognitive impairment.

Study participants also underwent imaging exams to measure the buildup of plaque in the arteries in three distinct vascular areas of the body, MRI to measure wall thickness in the carotid arteries and the abdominal aorta, and computed tomography (CT) to measure coronary artery calcium, or the amount of calcified plaque in the arteries of the heart.

Using the results, researchers performed a statistical regression to correlate the incidence of atherosclerosis and mild cognitive impairment. After adjusting for traditional risk factors for atherosclerosis, including age, ethnicity, male sex, diabetes, hypertension, smoking and body mass index, they found independent relationships between atherosclerosis in all three vascular areas of the body and cognitive health, as measured by MoCA scores and white matter hyperintensity volume on MR images.

Individuals in the highest quartile of internal carotid wall thickness were 21 percent more likely to have cognitive impairment as measured by a low MoCA score. An increasing coronary artery calcium score was predictive of large white matter intensity volume on MRI.

The team state that these results underscore the importance of identifying atherosclerosis in its early stages, not just to help preserve heart function, but also to preserve cognition and brain health.  The current study also found that MRI and CT imaging techniques provide valuable prognostic information about an individual’s downstream health risks.

Plaque buildup in blood vessels throughout the body offers the medical community a window into brain health.  With this study proving that imaging with CT and MRI has an important role in identifying patients who are at a higher risk for cognitive impairment.

Source:  Radiological Society of North America

 

 

In a brain riddled with Alzheimer's disease, protein tangles grow and connections between nerve cells shrivel. This video by Stacy Jannis and her team at Jannis Productions in Silver Spring, M.D., animates this microscopic damage to explain how the disease starts. The team produced the movie for the National Institute on Aging to depict scientists' most current understanding of what happens inside cells during the disease.  Credit: Stacy Jannis, William Dempsey and Rebekah Fredenburg; Jannis Productions.
In a brain riddled with Alzheimer’s disease, protein tangles grow and connections between nerve cells shrivel. This video by Stacy Jannis and her team at Jannis Productions in Silver Spring, M.D., animates this microscopic damage to explain how the disease starts. The team produced the movie for the National Institute on Aging to depict scientists’ most current understanding of what happens inside cells during the disease. Credit: Stacy Jannis, William Dempsey and Rebekah Fredenburg; Jannis Productions.

Healthinnovations View All

Michelle Petersen is the founder of Healthinnovations, having worked in the health and science industry for over 21 years, which includes tenure within the NHS and Oxford University. Healthinnovations is a publication that has reported on, influenced, and researched current and future innovations in health for the past decade.

Michelle has been picked up as an expert writer for Informa publisher’s Clinical Trials community, as well as being listed as a blog source by the world’s leading medical journals, including the acclaimed Nature-Springer journal series.

Healthinnovations is currently indexed by the trusted Altmetric and PlumX metrics systems, respectively, as a blog source for published research globally. Healthinnovations is also featured in the world-renowned BioPortfolio, BioPortfolio.com, the life science, pharmaceutical and healthcare portal.

Most recently the Texas A&M University covered The Top 10 Healthinnovations series on their site with distinguished Professor Stephen Maren calling the inclusion of himself and his team on the list a reflection of “the hard work and dedication of my students and trainees”.

Michelle Petersen’s copy was used in the highly successful marketing campaign for the mega-hit film ‘Jumanji: The Next Level, starring Jack Black, Karen Gilian, Kevin Hart and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson. Michelle Petersen’s copywriting was part of the film’s coverage by the Republic TV network. Republic TV is the most-watched English language TV channel in India since its inception in 2017.

An avid campaigner in the fight against child sex abuse and trafficking, Michelle is a passionate humanist striving for a better quality of life for all humans by helping to provide traction for new technologies and techniques within healthcare.

Leave a Reply

Translate »