The Whole Picture: From Isolated to Global MRI Measures of Neurovascular and Neurodegenerative Disease

Part of the Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology book series (AEMB, volume 1205)


Structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has been used to characterise the appearance of the brain in cerebral small vessel disease (SVD), ischaemic stroke, cognitive impairment, and dementia. SVD is a major cause of stroke and dementia; features of SVD include white matter hyperintensities (WMH) of presumed vascular origin, lacunes of presumed vascular origin, microbleeds, and perivascular spaces. Cognitive impairment and dementia have traditionally been stratified into subtypes of varying origin, e.g., vascular dementia versus dementia of the Alzheimer’s type (Alzheimer’s disease; AD). Vascular dementia is caused by reduced blood flow in the brain, often as a result of SVD, and AD is thought to have its genesis in the accumulation of tau and amyloid-beta leading to brain atrophy. But after early seminal studies in the 1990s found neurovascular disease features in around 30% of AD patients, it is becoming recognised that so-called “mixed pathologies” (of vascular and neurodegenerative origin) exist in many more patients diagnosed with stroke, only one type of dementia, or cognitive impairment. On the back of these discoveries, attempts have recently been made to quantify the full extent of degenerative and vascular disease in the brain in vivo on MRI. The hope being that these “global” methods may one day lead to better diagnoses of disease and provide more sensitive measurements to detect treatment effects in clinical trials. Indeed, the “Total MRI burden of cerebral small vessel disease”, the “Brain Health Index” (BHI), and “MRI measure of degenerative and cerebrovascular pathology in Alzheimer disease” have all been shown to have stronger associations with clinical and cognitive phenotypes than individual brain MRI features. This chapter will review individual structural brain MRI features commonly seen in SVD, stroke, and dementia. The relationship between these features and differing clinical and cognitive phenotypes will be discussed along with developments in their measurement and quantification. The chapter will go on to review emerging methods for quantifying the collective burden of structural brain MRI findings and how these “whole picture” methods may lead to better diagnoses of neurovascular and neurodegenerative disorders.


Brain MRI Neurodegeneration Neurovascular disease Stroke Dementia 



David Alexander Dickie is funded by a Stroke Association Postdoctoral Fellowship and would like to thank the Stroke Association very much for their fantastic support.


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute of Cardiovascular and Medical SciencesUniversity of Glasgow, Queen Elizabeth University HospitalGlasgowUK

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