White matter fiber-specific degeneration in older adults with metabolic syndrome

Christina Andica, Koji Kamagata, Wataru Uchida, Kaito Takabayashi, ... Shigeki Aoki


Metabolic syndrome (MetS) is defined as a complex of interrelated risk factors for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, including glucose intoleranceabdominal obesity, hypertension, and dyslipidemia. Studies using diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) have reported white matter (WM) microstructural abnormalities in MetS. However, interpretation of DTI metrics is limited primarily due to the challenges of modeling complex WM structures. The present study used fixel-based analysis (FBA) to assess the effect of MetS on the fiber tract-specific WM microstructure in older adults and its relationship with MetS-related measurements and cognitive and locomotor functions to better understand the pathophysiology of MetS.


Fixel-based metrics, including microstructural fiber density (FD), macrostructural fiber-bundle cross-section (FC), and a combination of FD and FC (FDC), were evaluated in 16 healthy controls (no components of MetS; four men; mean age, 71.31 ± 5.06 years), 57 individuals with premetabolic syndrome (preMetS; one or two components of MetS; 29 men; mean age, 72.44 ± 5.82 years), and 46 individuals with MetS (three to five components of MetS; 27 men; mean age, 72.15 ± 4.97 years) using whole-brain exploratory FBA. Tract of interest (TOI) analysis was then performed using TractSeg across 14 selected WM tracts previously associated with MetS. The associations between fixel-based metrics and MetS-related measurements, neuropsychological, and locomotor function tests were also analyzed in individuals with preMetS and MetS combined. In addition, tensor-based metrics (i.e., fractional anisotropy [FA] and mean diffusivity [MD]) were compared among the groups using tract-based spatial statistics (TBSS) analysis.


In whole-brain FBA, individuals with MetS showed significantly lower FD, FC, and FDC compared with healthy controls in WM areas, such as the splenium of the corpus callosum (CC), corticospinal tract (CST), middle cerebellar peduncle (MCP), and superior cerebellar peduncle (SCP). Meanwhile, in fixel-based TOI, significantly reduced FD was observed in individuals with preMetS and MetS in the anterior thalamic radiation, CST, SCP, and splenium of the CC compared with healthy controls, with relatively greater effect sizes observed in individuals with MetS. Compared with healthy controls, significantly reduced FC and FDC were only demonstrated in individuals with MetS, including regions with loss of FD, inferior cerebellar peduncle, inferior fronto-occipital fasciculus, MCP, and superior longitudinal fasciculus part I. Furthermore, negative correlations were observed between FD and Brinkman index of cigarette consumption cumulative amount and between FC or FDC and the Trail Making Test (parts B–A), which is a measure of executive function, waist circumference, or low-density lipoprotein cholesterol. Finally, TBSS analysis revealed that FA and MD were not significantly different among all groups.


The FBA results demonstrate that substantial axonal loss and atrophy in individuals with MetS and early axonal loss without fiber-bundle morphological changes in those with preMetS within the WM tracts are crucial to cognitive and motor function. FBA also clarified the association between executive dysfunction, abdominal obesity, hyper-low-density lipoprotein cholesterolemia, smoking habit, and compromised WM neural tissue microstructure in MetS.