A new study published in the journal Radiology finds that people who smoke or have diabetes may be at increased risk of calcifications in a region of the brain crucial to memory.
Dementia is a major public health problem that affects tens of millions of people worldwide.
One focus of dementia research has been the hippocampus, a brain structure important for both short- and long-term memory storage.
Alzheimer’s disease, the most common type of dementia, is associated with atrophy of the hippocampus.
Researchers have hypothesized that abnormal buildups of calcium, or calcifications, in the hippocampus may be related to vascular problems that could contribute to hippocampal atrophy and subsequent cognitive deterioration.
However, previous research on the link between hippocampal calcification and cognitive impairment is limited.
Recent advances in imaging have provided opportunities to explore the role of hippocampal calcifications in dementia.
For example, the development of multiplanar brain CT scans has enabled better distinction between hippocampal calcifications and calcifications in nearby brain structures.
In this study, researchers studied the association between vascular risk factors like high blood pressure, diabetes and smoking, and hippocampal calcifications.
They also assessed the effects of calcifications on cognitive function.
The study group included 1,991 patients, average age 78 years, who had visited a memory clinic at a Dutch hospital between 2009 and 2015.
The patients had a standard diagnosis including cognitive tests and brain CT scans. The researchers analyzed the CT scans for the presence and severity of hippocampal calcifications.
Of the 1,991 patients, 380, or 19.1 percent, had hippocampal calcifications. Older age, diabetes and smoking were associated with an increased risk of hippocampal calcifications on CT scans.
While the study was not designed to conclusively determine if smoking and diabetes increase the risk of hippocampal calcifications, the results strongly suggest a link.
There was no link between the presence and severity of hippocampal calcifications and cognitive function.
The researchers plan to carry out additional studies in different groups of people to better understand possible links between these calcifications and cognitive problems.
“We know that calcifications in the hippocampus are common, especially with increasing age. However, we did not know if calcifications in the hippocampus related to cognitive function.” Dr. de Brouwer said.
“A multiplanar CT scan makes it possible to see the hippocampus in different anatomical planes; for example, from top to bottom, right to left and front to back.
“We do think that smoking and diabetes are risk factors. In a recent histopathology study, hippocampal calcifications were found to be a manifestation of vascular disease.”
“It is well known that smoking and diabetes are risk factors for cardiovascular disease. It is, therefore, likely that smoking and diabetes are risk factors for hippocampal calcifications.”
Copyright © 2018 Knowridge Science Report. All rights reserved.
News source: Radiological Society of North America.
Figure legend: This Knowridge.com image is for illustrative purposes only.