Research Article: Mapping cerebral pulse pressure and arterial compliance over the adult lifespan with optical imaging

Date Published: February 24, 2017

Publisher: Public Library of Science

Author(s): Chin Hong Tan, Kathy A. Low, Tania Kong, Mark A. Fletcher, Benjamin Zimmerman, Edward L. Maclin, Antonio M. Chiarelli, Gabriele Gratton, Monica Fabiani, Bart Rypma.


Cerebrovascular health is important for maintaining a high level of cognitive performance, not only in old age, but also throughout the lifespan. Recently, it was first demonstrated that diffuse optical imaging measures of pulse amplitude and arterial compliance can provide estimates of cerebral arterial health throughout the cortex, and were associated with age, estimated cardiorespiratory fitness (eCRF), neuroanatomy and cognitive function in older adults (aged 55–87). The current study replicates and extends the original findings using a broader age range (a new adult sample aged 18–75), longer recording periods (360 s), and a more extensive optical montage (1536 channels). These methodological improvements represent a 5-fold increase in recording time and a 4-fold increase in coverage compared to the initial study. Results show that reliability for both pulse amplitude and compliance measures across recording blocks was very high (r(45) = .99 and .75, respectively). Pulse amplitude and pulse pressure were shown to correlate with age across the broader age range. We also found correlations between arterial health and both cortical and subcortical gray matter volumes. Additionally, we replicated the correlations between arterial compliance and age, eCRF, global brain atrophy, and cognitive flexibility. New regional analyses revealed that higher performance on the operation span (OSPAN) working memory task was associated with greater localized arterial compliance in frontoparietal cortex, but not with global arterial compliance. Further, greater arterial compliance in frontoparietal regions was associated with younger age and higher eCRF. These associations were not present in the visual cortex. The current study not only replicates the initial one in a sample including a much wider age range, but also provides new evidence showing that frontoparietal regions may be especially vulnerable to vascular degeneration during brain aging, with potential functional consequences in cognition.

Partial Text

Many studies have demonstrated that vascular health plays an important role in both normal (pre-clinical) aging and in conditions that become more prevalent in aging, such as mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Systemic arterial stiffening contributes to negative neurological outcomes, including poorer cognitive function [1–6], greater brain atrophy in multiple regions [7], increased risk of degenerative disease states such as AD [8–11] as well as increased cardiovascular mortality rates [12–13].

By design, all screening and data collection procedures and parameters described in this Methods section are similar to those used in [23]. Participants, however, constitute a completely independent sample from those whose data are presented in [23].

The results presented in the current paper represent evidence supporting the novel use of diffuse optical imaging methods to study cerebrovascular health and its functional consequences on cognitive decline over the course of life span development and aging. The importance of these findings is underscored by growing evidence showing that disruptions in the microcirculatory processes in the brain’s vasculature are closely linked to neurodegeneration in cognitive and brain aging [79–80]. In addition, a large scale study involving over 6000 autopsy reports found that patients with AD had a significantly higher association with cerebrovascular disease and vascular pathology than other neurodegenerative diseases, suggesting that targeting cerebrovascular pathology for early intervention may help prevent or slow down the clinical manifestations of AD [81]. This idea is in line with evidence showing that apolipoprotein E genotype and cerebrovascular pathology such as poor CVR and carotid artery intima-media thickness (IMT) can increase the risk of conversion from mild cognitive impairment (MCI) to AD [82]. Given that the optical pulse amplitude measure can be used to quantify CVR by inducing hypercapnia [29] and arterial compliance acts as an index of vascular stiffness, these measures may also be useful in predicting conversion from MCI to AD. Within this larger context, the results from the current study support the critical role of cerebrovascular health in brain and cognitive decline in the normal aging process. We have largely replicated the initial findings reported by Fabiani et al. [23] in a sample including only older adults, and extended them to a wider age range including much of the adult lifespan (18–75).




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