Importance Current hypothetical models emphasize the importance of β-amyloid in Alzheimer disease (AD) pathogenesis, although amyloid alone is not sufficient to account for the dementia syndrome. The impact of small-vessel cerebrovascular disease, visualized as white matter hyperintensities (WMHs) on magnetic resonance imaging scans, may be a key factor that contributes independently to AD presentation.
Objective To determine the impact of WMHs and Pittsburgh Compound B (PIB) positron-emission tomography–derived amyloid positivity on the clinical expression of AD.
Design Baseline PIB–positron-emission tomography values were downloaded from the Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative database. Total WMH volume was derived on accompanying structural magnetic resonance imaging data. We examined whether PIB positivity and total WMHs predicted diagnostic classification of patients with AD (n = 20) and control subjects (n = 21). A second analysis determined whether WMHs discriminated between those with and without the clinical diagnosis of AD among those who were classified as PIB positive (n = 28). A third analysis examined whether WMHs, in addition to PIB status, could be used to predict future risk for AD among subjects with mild cognitive impairment (n = 59).
Setting The Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative public database.
Participants The study involved data from 21 normal control subjects, 59 subjects with mild cognitive impairment, and 20 participants with clinically defined AD from the Alzheimer Disease's Neuroimaging Initiative database.
Main Outcome Measures Clinical AD diagnosis and WMH volume.
Results Pittsburgh Compound B positivity and increased total WMH volume independently predicted AD diagnosis. Among PIB-positive subjects, those diagnosed as having AD had greater WMH volume than normal control subjects. Among subjects with mild cognitive impairment, both WMH and PIB status at baseline conferred risk for future diagnosis of AD.
Conclusions and Relevance White matter hyperintensities contribute to the presentation of AD and, in the context of significant amyloid deposition, may provide a second hit necessary for the clinical manifestation of the disease. As risk factors for the development of WMHs are modifiable, these findings suggest intervention and prevention strategies for the clinical syndrome of AD.