Objectives: To characterize effects of chronically elevated blood pressure on the brain, we tested for brain white matter microstructural differences associated with normotension, pre-hypertension and hypertension in recently available brain magnetic resonance imaging data from 4659 participants without known neurological or psychiatric disease (62.3±7.4 yrs, 47.0% male) in UK Biobank. Methods: For assessment of white matter microstructure, we used measures derived from neurite orientation dispersion and density imaging (NODDI) including the intracellular volume fraction (an estimate of neurite density) and isotropic volume fraction (an index of the relative extracellular water diffusion). To estimate differences associated specifically with blood pressure, we applied propensity score matching based on age, sex, educational level, body mass index, and history of smoking, diabetes mellitus and cardiovascular disease to perform separate contrasts of non-hypertensive (normotensive or pre-hypertensive, N = 2332) and hypertensive (N = 2337) individuals and of normotensive (N = 741) and pre-hypertensive (N = 1581) individuals (p<0.05 after Bonferroni correction). Results: The brain white matter intracellular volume fraction was significantly lower, and isotropic volume fraction was higher in hypertensive relative to non-hypertensive individuals (N = 1559, each). The white matter isotropic volume fraction also was higher in pre-hypertensive than in normotensive individuals (N = 694, each) in the right superior longitudinal fasciculus and the right superior thalamic radiation, where the lower intracellular volume fraction was observed in the hypertensives relative to the non-hypertensive group. Significance: Pathological processes associated with chronically elevated blood pressure are associated with imaging differences suggesting chronic alterations of white matter axonal structure that may affect cognitive functions even with pre-hypertension.
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