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Background: Microvascular brain injury, typically measured by extent of white matter hyperintensity (WMH) on MRI, is an important contributor to cognitive impairment in the elderly. Recent studies suggest a role for circulating [beta]-amyloid peptide in microvascular dysfunction and white matter disease.

Methods: The authors performed a cross-sectional study of clinical, biochemical, and genetic factors associated with WMH in 54 subjects with Alzheimer disease (AD) or mild cognitive impairment (AD/MCI) and an independent group of 42 subjects with cerebral amyloid angiopathy (CAA). Extent of WMH was determined by computer-assisted volumetric measurement normalized to intracranial size (nWMH). Biochemical measurements included plasma concentrations of the 40- and 42-amino acid species of [beta]-amyloid (A[beta]40 and A[beta]42) detected by specific enzyme-linked immunosorbent assays.

Results: Plasma A[beta]40 concentrations were associated with nWMH in both groups (correlation coefficient = 0.48 in AD/MCI, 0.42 in CAA, p <= 0.005). Plasma A[beta]40 remained independently associated with nWMH after adjustment for potential confounders among age, hypertension, diabetes, homocysteine, creatinine, folate, vitamin B12, and APOE genotype. The presence of lacunar infarctions was also associated with increased A[beta]40 in both groups. nWMH was greater in CAA (19.8 cm3) than AD (11.1 cm3) or MCI (10.0 cm3; p < 0.05 for both comparisons).

Conclusions: Plasma [beta]-amyloid 40 concentration is independently associated with extent of white matter hyperintensity in subjects with Alzheimer disease, mild cognitive impairment, or cerebral amyloid angiopathy. If confirmed in longitudinal studies, these data would suggest circulating [beta]-amyloid peptide as a novel biomarker or risk factor for microvascular damage in these common diseases of the elderly.

(C) 2006 American Academy of Neurology