White Matter Connectivity in Incident Mild Cognitive Impairment: A Diffusion Spectrum Imaging Study of World Trade Center Responders at Midlife

September 6, 2021

Authors: Chuan Huang, Minos Kritikos, Sean A P Clouston, Yael Deri, Mario Serrano-Sosa, Lev Bangiyev, Stephanie Santiago-Michels, Sam Gandy, Mary Sano, Evelyn J Bromet, Benjamin J Luft

Journal: Journal of Alzheimer's Disease

DOI: 10.3233/JAD-201237

Year Published: 2021

Background:

Individuals who participated in response efforts at the World Trade Center (WTC) following 9/11/2001 are experiencing elevated incidence of mild cognitive impairment (MCI) at midlife.

Objective:

We hypothesized that white matter connectivity measured using diffusion spectrum imaging (DSI) would be restructured in WTC responders with MCI versus cognitively unimpaired responders.

Methods:

Twenty responders (mean age 56; 10 MCI/10 unimpaired) recruited from an epidemiological study were characterized using NIA-AA criteria alongside controls matched on demographics (age/sex/occupation/race/education). Axial DSI was acquired on a 3T Siemen’s Biograph mMR scanner (12-channel head coil) using a multi-band diffusion sequence. Connectometry examined whole-brain tract-level differences in white matter integrity. Fractional anisotropy (FA), mean diffusivity (MD), and quantified anisotropy were extracted for region of interest (ROI) analyses using the Desikan-Killiany atlas.

Results:

Connectometry identified both increased and decreased connectivity within regions of the brains of responders with MCI identified in the corticothalamic pathway and cortico-striatal pathway that survived adjustment for multiple comparisons. MCI was also associated with higher FA values in five ROIs including in the rostral anterior cingulate; lower MD values in four ROIs including the left rostral anterior cingulate; and higher MD values in the right inferior circular insula. Analyses by cognitive domain revealed nominal associations in domains of response speed, verbal learning, verbal retention, and visuospatial learning.

Conclusions:

WTC responders with MCI at midlife showed early signs of neurodegeneration characterized by both increased and decreased white matter diffusivity in regions commonly affected by early-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

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