White matter hyperintensities (WMHs) on T2-weighted images are radiological signs of cerebral small vessel disease. As their total volume is variably associated with cognition, a new approach that integrates multiple radiological criteria is warranted. Location may matter, as periventricular WMHs have been shown to be associated with cognitive impairments. WMHs that appear as hypointense in T1-weighted images (T1w) may also indicate the most severe component of WMHs. We developed an automatic method that sub-classifies WMHs into four categories (periventricular/deep and T1w-hypointense/nonT1w-hypointense) using MRI data from 684 community-dwelling older adults from the Whitehall II study. To test if location and intensity information can impact cognition, we derived two general linear models using either overall or subdivided volumes. Results showed that periventricular T1w-hypointense WMHs were significantly associated with poorer performance in the trail making A (p = 0.011), digit symbol (p = 0.028) and digit coding (p = 0.009) tests. We found no association between total WMH volume and cognition. These findings suggest that sub-classifying WMHs according to both location and intensity in T1w reveals specific associations with cognitive performance.
Aging, Cerebral small vessel diseases, Cognition, Magnetic resonance imaging, White matter