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Hum Brain Mapp. 2010 Dec;31(12):1983-92. doi: 10.1002/hbm.20994. Epub 2010 Mar 24.

Patterns of cortical degeneration in an elderly cohort with cerebral small vessel disease.

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Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, Center for Neuroscience, Section Neurophysiology and Neuroinformatics (NeuroPI, 126), Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Center, Nijmegen, The Netherlands.


Emerging noninvasive neuroimaging techniques allow for the morphometric analysis of patterns of gray and white matter degeneration in vivo, which may help explain and predict the occurrence of cognitive impairment and Alzheimer's disease. A single center prospective follow-up study (Radboud University Nijmegen Diffusion tensor and Magnetic resonance imaging Cohort study (RUN DMC)) was performed involving 503 nondemented elderly individuals (50-85 years) with a history of symptomatic cerebral small vessel disease (SVD). Age was associated with a global reduction in cortical thickness, and this relationship was strongest for ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, auditory cortex, Wernicke's area, superior temporal lobe, and primary visual cortex. Right and left hemispheres differed in the thickness of language-related areas. White matter (WM) lesions were generally negatively correlated with cortical thickness, primarily in individuals over the age of 60, with the notable exception of Brodmann areas 4 and 5, which were positively correlated in age groups 50-60 and 60-70, respectively. The observed pattern of age-related decline may explain problems in memory and executive functions, which are already well documented in individuals with SVD. The additional gray matter loss affecting visual and auditory cortex, and specifically the head region of primary motor cortex, may indicate morphological correlates of impaired sensory and motor functions. The paradoxical positive relationship between WM lesion volume and cortical thickness in some areas may reflect early compensatory hypertrophy. This study raises a further interest in the mechanisms underlying cerebral gray and white matter degeneration in association with SVD, which will require further investigation with diffusion weighted and longitudinal MR studies.

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