Background: White matter hyperintensities (WMHs) are related to cognitive dysfunction in the general population. The clinical relevance of WMHs in patients with Alzheimer's disease (AD) and mild cognitive impairment (MCI) is, however, unclear. Objective: This meta-analysis aimed to quantify the association of WMHs and specific cognitive domains in patients with MCI or AD. Methods: PubMed (January 1990-January 2017) was searched for studies that used MRI to quantify WMHs, and measured cognitive functioning (≥1 predefined cognitive domain with ≥1 test) in a well-defined population of persons diagnosed with MCI or AD. Fischer's Z was used as the common metric for effect size. Modifying effects of demographics, MMSE, and WMH location were examined. Results: Twelve cross-sectional studies on AD (total n=1,370, median age 75 years) and 10 studies on MCI (9 cross-sectional, 1 longitudinal; total n=2,286, median age 73 years) were included. The association between WMHs and overall cognition was significantly stronger for MCI (-0.25, -0.36 to -0.14) than for AD (-0.11, -0.14 to -0.08; Q M =10.7, p<0.05). For both groups, largest effect sizes were found in attention and executive functions (-0.26, -0.36 to -0.15) and processing speed (-0.21, -0.35 to -0.12). No significant modifying effects of age and gender were found. Conclusion: WMHs have a medium-sized association with different cognitive functions in patients with MCI and a small, but statistically significant, association with cognition in AD. These result underscore the role of co-occurring vascular brain damage in MCI and AD.

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Journal of Alzheimer's Disease
Department of Neurology

van den Berg, E., Geerlings, M., Biessels, G. J., Nederkoorn, P., & Kloppenborg, R.P. (Raoul P.). (2018). White Matter Hyperintensities and Cognition in Mild Cognitive Impairment and Alzheimer's Disease: A Domain-Specific Meta-Analysis. Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, 63(2), 515–527. doi:10.3233/JAD-170573