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Computational quantification of brain perivascular space morphologies: Associations with vascular risk factors and white matter hyperintensities. A study in the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936

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Original languageEnglish
Article number102120
JournalNeuroImage: Clinical
Early online date9 Dec 2019
Publication statusPublished - 2020


Background and Purpose
Perivascular Spaces (PVS), also known as Virchow-Robin spaces, seen on structural brain MRI, are important fluid drainage conduits and are associated with small vessel disease (SVD). Computational quantification of visible PVS may enable efficient analyses in large datasets and increase sensitivity to detect associations with brain disorders. We assessed the associations of computationally-derived PVS parameters with vascular factors and white matter hyperintensities (WMH), a marker of SVD.

Community dwelling individuals (n = 700) from the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936 who had multimodal brain MRI at age 72.6 years (SD = 0.7).

We assessed PVS computationally in the centrum semiovale and deep corona radiata on T2-weighted images. The computationally calculated measures were the total PVS volume and count per subject, and the mean individual PVS length, width and size, per subject. We assessed WMH by volume and visual Fazekas scores. We compared PVS visual rating to PVS computational metrics, and tested associations between each PVS measure and vascular risk factors (hypertension, diabetes, cholesterol), vascular history (cardiovascular disease and stroke), and WMH burden, using generalized linear models, which we compared using coefficients, confidence intervals and model fit.

In 533 subjects, the computational PVS measures correlated positively with visual PVS ratings (PVS count r = 0.59; PVS volume r = 0.61; PVS mean length r = 0.55; PVS mean width r = 0.52; PVS mean size r = 0.47). PVS size and width were associated with hypertension (OR 1.22, 95% CI [1.03 to 1.46] and 1.20, 95% CI [1.01 to 1.43], respectively), and stroke (OR 1.34, 95% CI [1.08 to 1.65] and 1.36, 95% CI [1.08 to 1.71], respectively). We found no association between other PVS measures and diabetes, hypercholesterolemia or cardiovascular disease history. Computational PVS volume, length, width and size were more strongly associated with WMH (PVS mean size versus WMH Fazekas score β = 0.66, 95% CI [0.59 to 0.74] and versus WMH volume β = 0.43, 95% CI [0.38 to 0.48]) than computational PVS count (WMH Fazekas score β = 0.21, 95% CI [0.11 to 0.3]; WMH volume β = 0.14, 95% CI [0.09 to 0.19]) or visual score. Individual PVS size showed the strongest association with WMH.


Computational measures reflecting individual PVS size, length and width were more strongly associated with WMH, stroke and hypertension than computational count or visual PVS score. Multidimensional computational PVS metrics may increase sensitivity to detect associations of PVS with risk exposures, brain lesions and neurological disease, provide greater anatomic detail and accelerate understanding of disorders of brain fluid and waste clearance.

    Research areas

  • MRI, ageing, perivascular spaces, white matter hyperintensities

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