Previous studies have linked global burden of age-related white matter hyperintensities (WMHs) to cognitive impairment. We aimed to determine how WMHs in individual white matter connections relate to measures of cognitive function relative to measures of connectivity which do not take WMHs into account. Brain connectivity and WMH-related disconnectivity were derived from 3714 participants of the population-based Rotterdam Study. Connectivity was represented by the structural connectome, which was defined using diffusion tensor data, whereas the disconnectome represented disconnectivity due to WMH. The relationship between (dis)connectivity and cognitive measures was estimated using linear regression. We found that lower disconnectivity and higher connectivity corresponded to better cognitive function. There were many more significant associations with cognitive function in the disconnectome than in the connectome. Most connectome associations attenuated when disconnection was included in the model. WMH-related disconnectivity was especially related to worse executive functioning. Better cognitive speed corresponded to higher connectivity in specific connections independent of WMH presence. We conclude that WMH-related disconnectivity explains more variation in cognitive function than does connectivity. Efficient wiring in specific connections is important to information processing speed independent of WMH presence.
- White matter hyperintensities