How Much Do Focal Infarcts Distort White Matter Lesions and Global Cerebral Atrophy Measures?

Xin Wang, Maria C. Valdes Hernandez, Fergus Doubal, Francesca M. Chappell, Joanna M. Wardlaw*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Background: White matter lesions (WML) and brain atrophy are important biomarkers in stroke and dementia. Stroke lesions, either acute or old, symptomatic or silent, are common in older people. Such stroke lesions can have similar signals to WML and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) on magnetic resonance (MR) images, and may be classified accidentally as WML or CSF by MR image processing algorithms, distorting WML and brain atrophy volume from the true volume. We evaluated the effect that acute or old stroke lesions at baseline, and new stroke lesions occurring during follow-up, could have on measurement of WML volume, cerebral atrophy and their longitudinal progression. Methods: We used MR imaging data from patients who had originally presented with acute lacunar or minor cortical ischaemic stroke symptoms, recruited prospectively, who were scanned at baseline and about 3 years later. We measured WML and CSF volumes (ml) semi-automatically. We manually outlined the acute index stroke lesion (ISL), any old stroke lesions present at baseline, and new lesions appearing de novo during follow-up. We compared baseline and follow-up WML volume, cerebral atrophy and their longitudinal progression excluding and including the acute ISL, old and de novo stroke lesions. A non-parametric test (Wilcoxon's signed rank test) was used to compare the effects. Results: Among 46 patients (mean age 72 years), 33 had an ISL visible on MR imaging (median volume 2.05 ml, IQR 0.88-8.88) and 7 of the 33 had old lacunes at baseline: WML volume was 8.54 ml (IQR 5.86-15.80) excluding versus 10.98 ml (IQR 6.91-24.86) including ISL (p <0.001). At follow-up, median 39 months later (IQR 30-45), 3 patients had a de novo stroke lesion; total stroke lesion volume had decreased in 11 and increased in 22 patients: WML volume was 12.17 ml (IQR 8.54-19.86) excluding versus 14.79 ml (IQR 10.02-38.03) including total stroke lesions (p <0.001). Including/excluding lacunes at baseline or follow-up also made small differences. Twenty-two of the 33 patients had tissue loss due to stroke lesions between baseline and follow-up, resulting in a net median brain tissue volume loss (i.e. atrophy) during follow-up of 24.49 ml (IQR 12.87-54.01) excluding versus 24.61 ml (IQR 15.54-54.04) including tissue loss due to stroke lesions (p <0.001). Including stroke lesions in the WML volume added substantial noise, reduced statistical power, and thus increased sample size estimated for a clinical trial. Conclusions: Failure to exclude even small stroke lesions distorts WML volume, cerebral atrophy and their longitudinal progression measurements. This has important implications for design and sample size calculations for observational studies and randomised trials using WML volume, WML progression or brain atrophy as outcome measures. Improved methods of discriminating between stroke lesions and WML, and between tissue loss due to stroke lesions and true brain atrophy are required. Copyright (C) 2012 S. Karger AG, Basel

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)336-342
Number of pages7
JournalCerebrovascular diseases
Issue number5-6
Publication statusPublished - 2012

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • Magnetic resonance imaging
  • Infarcts
  • Lacunes
  • Atrophy
  • White matter disease


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