Introduction: Small vessel disease is associated with decreased cognitive function, possibly differential by race. Age-related central arterial stiffening increases pulsatility resulting in hypoperfusion, microvascular damage and remodeling in the brain, potentially impairing cognition. We examined if arterial stiffness and pressure amplification are associated with lacunar infarcts and greater volumes of white matter hyperintensities (WMH) in a sample of Caucasian and African American (AA) older adults.
Methods: We analyzed a cross-sectional sample of ARIC participants aged 67-90 years (n=1486) from visit 5 (2011-2013), with brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). The Omron VP-1000 Plus was used to measure aortic stiffness (carotid-femoral pulse wave velocity [cfPWV]) and pressure amplification measures (pulse pressure amplification [PPA], central pulse pressure [cPP], and estimated central systolic blood pressure [cSBP]). Aortic stiffness and pressure amplification were dichotomized at race-specific 25th percentile cut points. Brain MRI using 3D-1.5T equipment quantified the presence of lacunar infarcts and volumes of WMH following a standardized protocol. Logistic regression, adjusted for age, sex, education, ApoE4, heart rate, smoking and body mass index, was used to quantify the odds of lacunar infarcts in participants with high vs. low cfPWV, cPP, cSBP, and low vs. high PPA. Linear regression models, additionally adjusted for intracranial volume, estimated the difference in log-transformed volumes of WMH among participants with high vs. low cfPWV, cPP, cSBP, and low vs. high PPA. Probability sampling weights for an MRI were included to allow for generalizability to the full visit 5 cohort.
Results: Among the 1486 participants with a brain MRI (mean age: 76, 41% male, 26% AA), measures of aortic stiffness and pressure amplification were associated with lacunar infarcts in Caucasians, but not in AAs. Caucasian participants with a high cfPWV had greater odds of lacunar infarcts (Odds Ratio [OR] =2.02, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 1.23, 2.20). Caucasians with high cSBP had higher odds of lacunar infarcts (OR=1.72, 95% CI: 1.10, 2.69). In Caucasians, high cfPWV was associated with a 21% (95% CI: 6, 38) greater volume of WMH as compared to a low cfPWV; high cSBP was associated with a 28% (95% CI: 14, 45) greater volume of WMH compared to a low cSBP. In AAs, high cfPWV was associated with a 32% (95% CI: 7, 62) greater volume of WMH as compared to low cfPWV. Cerebral microvascular imaging markers did not differ quantitatively with measures of PPA and cPP.
Conclusions: Central arterial stiffening and pressure amplification are plausible microvascular contributors to cognitive aging, providing new information on modifiable pathways for previously observed associations between cardiovascular disease risk factors and the rates of cognitive decline and dementia among older adults.