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Neuropsychology. 2010 Mar;24(2):199-208. doi: 10.1037/a0018108.

Variation in blood pressure is associated with white matter microstructure but not cognition in African Americans.

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VA Boston Healthcare System and Brigham, & Women's Hospital.


Although hypertension is a major risk factor for cerebrovascular disease (CVD) and is highly prevalent in African Americans, little is known about how blood pressure (BP) affects brain-behavior relationships in this population. In predominantly Caucasian populations, high BP is associated with alterations in frontal-subcortical white matter and in executive functioning aspects of cognition. We investigated associations among BP, brain structure, and neuropsychological functioning in 52 middle-older-age African Americans without diagnosed history of CVD. All participants underwent diffusion tensor imaging for examination of white matter integrity, indexed by fractional anisotropy (FA). Three regions of interest were derived in the anterior (genu) and posterior (splenium) corpus callosum and across the whole brain. A brief neuropsychological battery was administered from which composite scores of executive function and memory were derived. Blood pressure was characterized by mean arterial blood pressure (MABP). When controlling for age, higher MABP was associated with lower FA in the genu, and there was a trend for this same relationship with regard to whole-brain FA. When the sample was broken into groups on the basis of treatment for BP regulation (medicated vs. nonmedicated), MABP was related to genu and whole-brain FA only in the nonmedicated group. Neither MABP nor FA was significantly related to either neuropsychological composite score regardless of medication use. These data provide important evidence that variation in BP may contribute to significant alterations in specific neural regions of white matter in nonmedicated individuals without symptoms of overt CVD.

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