Background: We previously showed that overall brain white matter hyperintensity volume (WMHV) was associated with accelerated long-term functional decline. Asymmetry of brain dysfunction may disrupt brain network efficiency. We hypothesized that greater left-right WMHV asymmetry was associated with functional trajectories.
Methods: In the Northern Manhattan MRI study, participants had brain MRI with axial T1, T2, and fluid attenuated inversion recovery sequences, with baseline interview and examination. Volumetric WMHV distribution across 14 brain regions (brainstem, cerebellum, and bilateral frontal, occipital, temporal, and parietal lobes, and bilateral anterior and posterior periventricular white matter) was determined separately by combining bimodal image intensity distribution and atlas based methods.. Participants had annual functional assessments with the Barthel index (BI, range 0-100) over a mean of 7.3 years. Generalized estimating equations models estimated associations of regional WMHV and regional left-right asymmetry with baseline BI and change over time, adjusted for baseline medical risk factors, sociodemographics, and cognition, and stroke and myocardial infarction during follow-up.
Results: Among 1195 participants, mean age was 71 (SD 9) years, 39% were male, 67% had hypertension and 19% diabetes. Greater WMHV asymmetry in the frontal lobes (-3.53 BI points per unit greater WMHV on the right compared to left, 95% CI -0.18, -6.88) and whole brain (-7.23 BI points, 95% CI 0.07, -14.54) was associated with lower overall function. Greater WMHV asymmetry in the frontal lobes (-0.74 additional BI points per year per unit greater WMHV on the right compared to left, 95% CI 0.05, -1.54) and parietal lobes (1.11 additional BI points per year, 95% CI 0.30, 1.93) was independently associated with accelerated functional decline. Periventricular WMHV asymmetry was not associated with function.
Conclusions: In this large population-based study with long-term repeated measures of function, greater regional WMHV asymmetry was associated with lower function and functional decline, especially with greater WMHV on the right. In addition to global WMHV, WHMV asymmetry may be an important predictor of long-term functional decline.