Brain MRI identifies dementia patients who have vascular impairment rather than Alzheimer’s disease

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Researchers at the University of Nottingham in England have shown that brain MRI can be used to differentiate vascular cognitive disorder from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

Dorothee Auer, MD, PhD, and colleagues used such MR imaging, along with cognitive performance tests, to assess 108 patients presenting symptoms of carotid artery disease (CAD).

Of these, 53 were found to be cognitively impaired, and the researchers’ analysis linked lesions in white-matter brain tracts with poor cognitive performance.

CAD often leads to vascular cognitive impairment in the wake of strokes and transient ischemic attacks.

“Subcortical white matter ischemic lesion locations and severity of ultrastructural tract damage contribute to cognitive impairment in symptomatic CAD,” the authors write, “which suggests that subcortical disconnection within large-scale cognitive neural networks is a key mechanism of vascular cognitive disorder.”

Stated another way, the results of the study suggest that vascular cognitive disorder is caused by a sort of communication breakdown within cognitive neural networks.

In a press release from RSNA, which published the study online Sept. 6 in Radiology, Auer says the team used standard clinical brain MRI.

“Our findings mean that a simple MRI test might improve the diagnostic work-up of people with suspected vascular cognitive disorder,” she adds, “and holds further promise to track progression of the disorder.”

RSNA points out that, while the study did not identify a biomarker that could predict and track vascular cognitive disorder on imaging exams, the MRI-aided peek into the brain’s signal-carrying white matter represent a noteworthy advance.

Click here to read the release.