To determine the contribution of white matter hyperintensities (WMH) to language deficits while accounting for cortical atrophy in individuals with primary progressive aphasia (PPA).
Forty-three individuals with PPA completed neuropsychological assessments of nonverbal semantics, naming, and sentence repetition plus T2-weighted and fluid-attenuated inversion recovery scans. Using three visual scales, we rated WMH and cerebral ventricle size for both scan types. We used Spearman correlations to evaluate associations between the scales and scans. To test whether visual ratings—particularly of WMH—are associated with language, we compared a base model (including gray matter component scores obtained via principal component analysis, age, and days between assessment and MRI as independent variables) with full models (ie, the base model plus visual ratings) for each language variable.
Visual ratings were significantly associated within and between scans and were significantly correlated with age but not with other vascular risk factors. Only the T2 scan ratings were associated with language abilities. Specifically, controlling for other variables, poorer naming was significantly related to larger ventricles (P = 0.033) and greater global (P = 0.033) and periventricular (P = 0.049) WMH. High global WMH (P = 0.034) were also correlated with worse sentence repetition skills.
Visual ratings of global brain health were associated with language deficits in PPA independent of cortical atrophy and age. While WMH are not unique to PPA, measuring WMH in conjunction with cortical atrophy may elucidate more accurate brain structure–behavior relationships in PPA than cortical atrophy measures alone.