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Brief Report
February 17, 2020

Temporal Dynamics of Cortical Microinfarcts in Cerebral Small Vessel Disease

Author Affiliations
  • 1Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, Department of Neurology, Radboud University Medical Center, Nijmegen, the Netherlands
  • 2Institute for Stroke and Dementia Research (ISD), University Hospital LMU Munich, Munich, Germany
  • 3Donders Institute for Brain, Cognition and Behaviour, Centre for Cognitive Neuroimaging, Radboud University, Nijmegen, the Netherlands
  • 4Image Sciences Institute, University Medical Center Utrecht, Utrecht, the Netherlands
  • 5Munich Cluster for Systems Neurology (SyNergy), Munich, Germany
JAMA Neurol. 2020;77(5):643-647. doi:10.1001/jamaneurol.2019.5106
Key Points

Question  What are the cumulative incidence and temporal dynamics of acute cortical microinfarcts?

Findings  In this cohort study of 54 participants with cerebral small vessel disease who were recruited to undergo 10 monthly 3-T magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, including high-resolution diffusion-weighted imaging, 21 acute cortical microinfarcts were observed in 7 of 54 participants (13%). All acute cortical microinfarcts disappeared on follow-up MRI.

Meaning  We show that incident acute cortical microinfarcts never evolved into chronically MRI-detectable lesions and suggest that these acute microinfarcts underlie part of the submillimeter cortical microinfarcts visible only on neuropathology, thereby providing a source for the high microinfarct burden encountered on neuropathology.


Importance  Neuropathology studies show a high prevalence of cortical microinfarcts (CMIs) in aging individuals, especially in patients with cerebrovascular disease and dementia. However, most, are invisible on T1- and T2-weighted magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), raising the question of how to explain this mismatch. Studies on small acute infarcts, detected on diffusion-weighted imaging (DWI), suggest that infarcts are largest in their acute phase and reduce in size thereafter. Therefore, we hypothesized that a subset of the CMI that are invisible on MRI can be detected on MRI in their acute phase. However, to our knowledge, a serial imaging study investigating the temporal dynamics of acute CMI (A-CMI) is lacking.

Objective  To determine the prevalence of chronic CMI (C-CMI) and the cumulative incidence and temporal dynamics of A-CMI in individuals with cerebral small vessel disease (SVD).

Design, Setting, Participants and Exposures  The RUN DMC—Intense study is a single-center hospital-based prospective cohort study on SVD performed between March 2016 and November 2017 and comprising 10 monthly 3-T MRI scans, including high-resolution DWI, 3-dimensional T1, 3-dimensional fluid-attenuated inversion recovery, and T2. One hundred six individuals from the previous longitudinal RUN DMC study were recruited based on the presence of progression of white matter hyperintensities on MRI between 2006 and 2015 and exclusion of causes of cerebral ischemia other than SVD. Fifty-four individuals (50.9%) participated. The median total follow-up duration was 39.5 weeks (interquartile range, 37.8-40.3). Statistical data analysis was performed between May and October 2019.

Main Outcomes and Measures  We determined the prevalence of C-CMI using the baseline T1, fluid-attenuated inversion recovery, and T2 scans. Monthly high-resolution DWI scans (n = 472) were screened to determine the cumulative incidence of A-CMI. The temporal dynamics of A-CMI were determined based on the MRI scans collected during the first follow-up visit after A-CMI onset and the last available follow-up visit.

Results  The median age of the cohort at baseline MRI was 69 years (interquartile range, 66-74 years) and 34 participants (63%) were men. The prevalence of C-CMI was 35% (95% CI, 0.24-0.49). Monthly DWI detected 21 A-CMI in 7 of 54 participants, resulting in a cumulative incidence of 13% (95% CI, 0.06-0.24). All A-CMI disappeared on follow-up MRI.

Conclusions and Relevance  Acute CMI never evolved into chronically MRI-detectable lesions. We suggest that these A-CMI underlie part of the submillimeter C-CMI encountered on neuropathological examination and thereby provide a source for the high CMI burden on neuropathology.

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