Background: Cognitive and motor performance can be supported, especially in older subjects, by different types of brain activations, which can be accurately studied by functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Vascular risk factors (VRFs) are extremely important in the development of cognitive impairment, but few studies have focused on the fMRI cortical activation characteristics of healthy subjects with and without silent cerebrovascular disease including white matter hyperintensities (WMH) and carotid stenosis (CS) performing cognitive tasks. Methods: Thirty-five volunteers with and without asymptomatic unilateral carotid stenosis above 70% and variable degrees of WMH underwent performance of a simple motor and cognitive task during an fMRI session. Results: While the performance of the motor task resulted in a cortical activation dependent of age but not of WMH and carotid stenosis, performance of the cognitive task was accompanied by a significantly increased activation independently correlated with age, presence of WMH as well as of carotid stenosis. Conclusions: in this study, cognitive domains regulating attention and working memory appear to be activated with a pattern influenced by the presence of carotid stenosis as well as by white matter hyperintensities. The impairment of these cognitive abilities is of high relevance in Alzheimer’s disease pathology. The fMRI pattern shown in patients with asymptomatic but significant carotid stenosis might be related to chronic cerebrovascular hypoperfusion, a critical pathophysiological mechanisms in AD. In these patients, carotid endoarterectomy should be considered also for AD prevention and might be recommended.
Keywords: Cognitive impairment, healthy ageing, intima-media thickness, vascular diseases, vitamins.