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Objective To examine whether high white matter hyperintensity (WMH) burden is associated with greater stroke severity and worse functional outcomes in lesion pattern-specific ways. Methods MR neuroimaging and National Institutes of Health Stroke Scale data at index stroke, as well as modified Rankin Scale (mRS) at 3-6 months post-stroke were obtained from MRI-GENIE study of acute ischemic stroke (AIS) patients. Individual WMH volume was automatically derived from FLAIR-images. Stroke lesions were automatically segmented from DWI-images, spatially normalized and parcellated into atlas-defined brain regions. Stroke lesion effects on AIS severity and unfavorable outcomes (mRS>2) were modeled within a purpose-built machine learning and Bayesian regression framework. In particular, interaction effects between stroke lesions and a high versus low WMH burden were integrated via hierarchical model structures. Models were adjusted for the covariates age, age2, sex, total DWI-lesion and WMH volumes, and comorbidities. Data were split into derivation and validation cohorts. Results A total of 928 AIS patients contributed to stroke severity analyses (mean age: 64.8(14.5), 40% women), 698 patients to functional outcome analyses (mean age: 65.9(14.7), 41% women). Individual stroke lesions were represented in five anatomically distinct left-hemispheric and five right-hemispheric lesion patterns. Across all patients, acute stroke severity was substantially explained by three of these patterns, that were particularly focused on bilateral subcortical and left-hemispherically pronounced cortical regions. In high WMH burden patients, two lesion patterns consistently emerged as more pronounced in case of stroke severity: the first pattern was centered on left-hemispheric insular, opercular and inferior frontal regions, while the second pattern combined right-hemispheric temporo-parietal regions. Bilateral subcortical regions were most relevant in explaining long term unfavorable outcome. No WMH-specific lesion patterns of functional outcomes were substantiated. However, a higher overall WMH burden was associated with higher odds of unfavorable outcomes. Conclusions Higher WMH burden increases stroke severity in case of stroke lesions involving left-hemispheric insular, opercular and inferior frontal regions (potentially linked to language functions) and right-hemispheric temporo-parietal regions (potentially linked to attention). These findings may contribute to augment stroke outcome predictions and motivate a WMH burden and stroke lesion pattern-specific clinical management of AIS patients.

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