Advanced CT imaging links smoking, diabetes to brain calcifications

With the help of advanced CT imaging, researchers from the Netherlands found that smokers and individuals with diabetes may have an increased risk of developing calcifications in the brain's hippocampus, the region of the brain responsible for memory. The research was published online today in Radiology.  

"We know that calcifications in the hippocampus are common, especially with increasing age," said lead author Esther J.M. de Brouwer, MD, a geriatrician at the University Medical Center Utrecht in the Netherlands, in a prepared statement. "However, we did not know if calcifications in the hippocampus related to cognitive function." 

To study the association between vascular risk factors like high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking and the effects of calcifications on cognitive function, de Brouwer and colleagues utilized multiplanar CT imaging to better distinguish hippocampal calcifications from calcifications in other regions of the brain.  

A total of 1,991 patients at an average age of 78 years old who visited the same memory clinic at Tergooi Hospital in the Netherlands between April 2009 and April 2015 were recruited for the study, according to the researchers. 

Cognitive tests and brain CT scans were then performed on all participants and the CT scans were analyzed for the presence and severity of hippocampal calcifications. 

Of the 1,991 patients, the researchers found that 19.1 percent had hippocampal calcifications and an unexpected potential link between old age, diabetes, smoking and an increased risk of hippocampal calcifications.

"We do think that smoking and diabetes are risk factors," de Brouwer said. "In a recent histopathology study, hippocampal calcifications were found to be a manifestation of vascular disease. It is well known that smoking and diabetes are risk factors for cardiovascular disease. It is, therefore, likely that smoking and diabetes are risk factors for hippocampal calcifications."

The researchers were surprised to find no correlation between hippocampal calcifications and cognitive function, in which de Brouwer explained could because of the multiple layers in the hippocampus or the selection of study participants.  

"The hippocampus is made up of different layers, and it is possible that the calcifications did not damage the hippocampal structure that is important for memory storage," de Brouwer said. "Another explanation could be the selection of our study participants, who all came from a memory clinic."