Results presented today at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America (29th November – 4th December, Chicago, IL, USA) have highlighted a possible link between N-terminal pro b-type natriuretic peptide (NT-proBNP), a key diagnostic of heart failure, and microstructural changes within the brain. The findings provide important information about the development of disease in the aging process.
In the study led by Hazel Zonneveld (Erasmus University Medical Center, Rotterdam, Netherlands), researchers analyzed data from 2432 healthy adults from the Rotterdam Study, a prospective, population-based study designed to investigate chronic diseases in Rotterdam’s aging population. It is known that myocardial infarction, heart failure and atrial fibrillation are associated with an increased risk of stroke and dementia so the study aimed to investigate the links between heart and brain disorders at an earlier stage in the disease process than previously evaluated.
All study participants underwent brain MRI, including diffusion tensor imaging, as well as blood tests to collect data on NT-proBNP levels. “NT-proBNP is released into the bloodstream in response to myocardial wall stress. Studies have demonstrated that NT-proBNP provides information on cardiac dysfunction even in the absence of overt heart disease,” explained Zonneveld.
MRI results were analyzed for markers of early brain disease, including a loss of brain volume, microstructural changes and white matter lesions. Specifically, DTI results indicated that higher NT-proBNP levels were associated with poorer microstructural organization within the white matter as well as a smaller total brain volume overall and larger white matter lesion volume.
“The brain volume loss was predominantly in the gray matter,” explained Zonneveld.
“This implies that the heart and brain are intimately linked, even in presumably healthy individuals, and informs us importantly about development of disease as we age,” she concluded.