Structural MRI markers of brain aging early after ischemic stroke

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Abstract

Objective:

To examine associations between ischemic stroke, vascular risk factors, and MRI markers of brain aging.

Methods:

Eighty-one patients (mean age 67.5 ± 13.1 years, 31 left-sided, 61 men) with confirmed first-ever (n = 66) or recurrent (n = 15) ischemic stroke underwent 3T MRI scanning within 6 weeks of symptom onset (mean 26 ± 9 days). Age-matched controls (n = 40) completed identical testing. Multivariate regression analyses examined associations between group membership and MRI markers of brain aging (cortical thickness, total brain volume, white matter hyperintensity [WMH] volume, hippocampal volume), normalized against intracranial volume, and the effects of vascular risk factors on these relationships.

Results:

First-ever stroke was associated with smaller hippocampal volume (p = 0.025) and greater WMH volume (p = 0.004) relative to controls. Recurrent stroke was in turn associated with smaller hippocampal volume relative to both first-ever stroke (p = 0.017) and controls (p = 0.001). These associations remained significant after adjustment for age, sex, education, and, in stroke patients, infarct volume. Total brain volume was not significantly smaller in first-ever stroke patients than in controls (p = 0.056), but the association became significant after further adjustment for atrial fibrillation (p = 0.036). Cortical thickness and brain volumes did not differ as a function of stroke type, infarct volume, or etiology.

Conclusions:

Brain structure is likely to be compromised before ischemic stroke by vascular risk factors. Smaller hippocampal and total brain volumes and increased WMH load represent proxies for underlying vascular brain injury.

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