Longitudinal decline in structural networks predicts dementia in cerebral small vessel disease.

23 May 2018

OBJECTIVE: To determine whether longitudinal change in white matter structural network integrity predicts dementia and future cognitive decline in cerebral small vessel disease (SVD). To investigate whether network disruption has a causal role in cognitive decline and mediates the association between conventional MRI markers of SVD with both cognitive decline and dementia. METHODS: In the prospective longitudinal SCANS (St George's Cognition and Neuroimaging in Stroke) Study, 97 dementia-free individuals with symptomatic lacunar stroke were followed with annual MRI for 3 years and annual cognitive assessment for 5 years. Conversion to dementia was recorded. Structural networks were constructed from diffusion tractography using a longitudinal registration pipeline, and network global efficiency was calculated. Linear mixed-effects regression was used to assess change over time. RESULTS: Seventeen individuals (17.5%) converted to dementia, and significant decline in global cognition occurred (p = 0.0016). Structural network measures declined over the 3-year MRI follow-up, but the degree of change varied markedly between individuals. The degree of reductions in network global efficiency was associated with conversion to dementia (B = -2.35, odds ratio = 0.095, p = 0.00056). Change in network global efficiency mediated much of the association of conventional MRI markers of SVD with cognitive decline and progression to dementia. CONCLUSIONS: Network disruption has a central role in the pathogenesis of cognitive decline and dementia in SVD. It may be a useful disease marker to identify that subgroup of patients with SVD who progress to dementia.