White matter hyperintensities are common in midlife and already associated with cognitive decline.
White matter hyperintensities proliferate as the brain ages and are associated with increased risk for cognitive decline as well as Alzheimer's disease and related dementias. As such, white matter hyperintensities have been targeted as a surrogate biomarker in intervention trials with older adults. However, it is unclear at what stage of aging white matter hyperintensities begin to relate to cognition and if they may be a viable target for early prevention. In the Dunedin Study, a population-representative cohort followed since birth, we measured white matter hyperintensities in 843 45-year-old participants using T2-weighted magnetic resonance imaging and we assessed cognitive decline from childhood to midlife. We found that white matter hyperintensities were common at age 45 and that white matter hyperintensity volume was modestly associated with both lower childhood (ß = -0.08, P = 0.013) and adult IQ (ß=-0.15, P < 0.001). Moreover, white matter hyperintensity volume was associated with greater cognitive decline from childhood to midlife (ß=-0.09, P < 0.001). Our results demonstrate that a link between white matter hyperintensities and early signs of cognitive decline is detectable decades before clinical symptoms of dementia emerge. Thus, white matter hyperintensities may be a useful surrogate biomarker for identifying individuals in midlife at risk for future accelerated cognitive decline and selecting participants for dementia prevention trials.
d'Arbeloff, T; Elliott, ML; Knodt, AR; Melzer, TR; Keenan, R; Ireland, D; Ramrakha, S; Poulton, R; Anderson, T; Caspi, A; Moffitt, TE; Hariri, AR
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