Wang S, Zhang F, Huang P, Hong H, Jiaerken Y, Yu X, Zhang R, Zeng Q, Zhang Y, Kikinis R, Rathi Y, Makris N, Lou M, Pasternak O, Zhang M, Donnell LJO. Superficial White Matter Microstructure Affects Processing Speed in Cerebral Small Vessel Disease. Hum Brain Mapp 2022;43(17):5310-25.
White matter hyperintensities (WMH) are a typical feature of cerebral small vessel disease (CSVD), which contributes to about 50% of dementias worldwide. Microstructural alterations in deep white matter (DWM) have been widely examined in CSVD. However, little is known about abnormalities in superficial white matter (SWM) and their relevance for processing speed, the main cognitive deficit in CSVD. In 141 CSVD patients, processing speed was assessed using Trail Making Test Part A. White matter abnormalities were assessed by WMH burden (volume on T2-FLAIR) and diffusion MRI measures. SWM imaging measures had a large contribution to processing speed, despite a relatively low SWM WMH burden. Across all imaging measures, SWM free water (FW) had the strongest association with processing speed, followed by SWM mean diffusivity (MD). SWM FW was the only marker to significantly increase between two subgroups with the lowest WMH burdens. When comparing two subgroups with the highest WMH burdens, the involvement of WMH in the SWM was accompanied by significant differences in processing speed and white matter microstructure. Mediation analysis revealed that SWM FW fully mediated the association between WMH volume and processing speed, while no mediation effect of MD or DWM FW was observed. Overall, results suggest that the SWM has an important contribution to processing speed, while SWM FW is a sensitive imaging marker associated with cognition in CSVD. This study extends the current understanding of CSVD-related dysfunction and suggests that the SWM, as an understudied region, can be a potential target for monitoring pathophysiological processes.