To examine the impact of age, sex, ethnicity, and vascular disease on measures of brain morphology, including relative brain volume, ventricle volume, hippocampus and entorhinal cortex volume, and white matter hyperintensity (WMH) burden in a large community-based cohort of non-demented, ethnically diverse older adults.
Beginning in 2003, high-resolution quantitative magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) was acquired on 769 participants without dementia. The relations of age, sex, self reported vascular disease history, and ethnicity, with brain morphology was examined in a cross-sectional study using multiple linear regression analyses. Sex and ethnicity interactions were also considered.
The Washington Heights/Hamilton Heights Aging Project (WHICAP), a community-based epidemiological study of older adults from three ethnic groups (i.e., Caucasian, Hispanic, African American) from northern Manhattan.
Main outcome measures
Relative brain volume (absolute brain volume/cranial volume), ventricular volume, hippocampus and entorhinal cortex volumes were derived manually on high-resolution MRI scans. White matter hyperintensities were quantified semi-automatically on FLAIR-weighted MRI.
Increased age was associated with decreased relative brain volume and increased ventricular and WMH volume. Hispanic and African American participants had larger relative brain volumes and more severe WMH burden than Caucasians, but their associations with age were similar across ethnic groups. Compared with men, women had larger relative brain volumes. Vascular disease was associated with smaller relative brain volume and higher WMH burden, particularly among African Americans.
Increased age and vascular disease particularly among African Americans are associated with increased brain atrophy and WMH burden. African American and Hispanic participants have larger relative brain volumes and more WMH than Caucasians. Ethnic group differences in WMH severity appear to be partially attributable to differences in vascular disease. Future work will focus on the determinants and cognitive correlates of these differences.