Neuroimaging of cerebral small vessel disease
Potter, Gillian Margaret
Lacunar stroke accounts for one quarter of all ischaemic stroke and in the long term carries a greater risk of death and disability than was previously realised. Much of our current knowledge originated from neuropathological studies in the 1950s and 1960s. In the last thirty years, brain computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) have revolutionised our understanding of lacunar stroke and associated features of cerebral small vessel disease (SVD), namely white matter lesions (WML), enlarged perivascular spaces (EPVS) and brain microbleeds (BMB). The purpose of the projects which led to the writing of this thesis was to improve understanding of imaging characteristics of cerebral SVD. We aimed to assess (i) clinical and imaging features which might explain misclassification of lacunar infarcts as cortical infarcts and vice versa, (ii) the proportion of symptomatic lacunar infarcts progressing to lacunar cavities and associations of cavitation, (iii) completeness of reporting of lacunar lesions in the lacunar stroke literature, (iv) definitions and detection of lacunar lesions amongst SVD researchers, (v) the relationship between WML and carotid stenosis, (vi) clinical and imaging associations of EPVS and, (vii) observer variability in the assessment of EPVS and BMB, in order to develop visual rating scales. Section one describes neuroimaging of lacunar stroke. To investigate features which might explain clinical stroke subtype misclassification (‘clinical-imaging dissociation’), I used data from a stroke study. The main factor associated with clinical-imaging dissociation was diabetes, and in patients with acute lacunar infarction, proximity of the lacunar infarct to the cortex, age, diabetes and left hemisphere location. To investigate the proportion of symptomatic lacunar infarcts progressing to cavities, I used data from two stroke studies. A fifth of patients with acute lacunar ischaemic stroke showed definite cavitation on follow-up imaging at a median of 227 days; cavitation was associated with increasing time to follow-up. To assess completeness of reporting of lacunar lesions in the lacunar stroke literature, I reviewed 50 articles from three journals with a stroke focus. There was marked variation in terminology and descriptions of imaging definitions of lacunar lesions. To assess lacunar lesion definitions and detection amongst SVD researchers, I used an online survey consisting of case-based and non-case-based questions. There was marked variation in definitions and descriptions. Cavitated lesions were detected with the highest degree of confidence. Section two describes neuroimaging of associated features of cerebral SVD. Using data from two stroke studies, I examined the relationship between WML and ipsilateral carotid artery stenosis. There was no association between carotid stenosis and WML. I tested the association of EPVS with WML and lacunar stroke subtype using data from a stroke study. Total EPVS were associated with age and deep WML; basal ganglia (BG) EPVS were associated with age, centrum semiovale (CS) EPVS, cerebral atrophy and lacunar stroke subtype. Quantification of observer variability in EPVS rating was assessed on 60 MRI scans selected from a stroke study and an ageing cohort. Intrarater agreement was good and interrater agreement was moderate. Main reasons for interrater disagreement included the visualisation of very small EPVS and the presence of concomitant WML and lacunar lesions. Observer variability in BMB rating was quantified using MRI scans from a stroke study. Interrater agreement was moderate but improved following modification of the pilot rating scale (BOMBS; Brain Observer MicroBleed Scale), which had its main effect by differentiating ‘certain’ BMB from ‘uncertain’ BMB and BMB ‘mimics’. In conclusion, neuroimaging, particularly MRI, is a valuable tool for the investigation of lacunar stroke and associated features of cerebral SVD. With recent technological advances in both CT and MRI, neuroimaging will remain central to future SVD studies, hopefully leading to a much improved understanding of this important disease.