Dissociable Contributions of Thalamic-Subregions to Cognitive Impairment in Small Vessel Disease

Hao Li, Mengfei Cai, Mina A. Jacob, David G. Norris, José P. Marques, Maxime Chamberland, Marco Duering, Roy P.C. Kessels, Frank Erik De Leeuw, Anil M. Tuladhar*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)
14 Downloads (Pure)


Background: Structural network damage is a potentially important mechanism by which cerebral small vessel disease (SVD) can cause cognitive impairment. As a central hub of the structural network, the role of thalamus in SVD-related cognitive impairments remains unclear. We aimed to determine the associations between the structural alterations of thalamic subregions and cognitive impairments in SVD. Methods: In this cross-sectional study, 205 SVD participants without thalamic lacunes from the third follow-up (2020) of the prospective RUN DMC study (Radboud University Nijmegen Diffusion Tensor and Magnetic Resonance Cohort), which was initiated in 2006, Nijmegen, were included. Cognitive functions included processing speed, executive function, and memory. Probabilistic tractography was performed from thalamus to 6 cortical regions, followed by connectivity-based thalamic segmentation to assess each thalamic subregion volume and connectivity (measured by mean diffusivity [MD] of the connecting white matter tracts) with the cortex. Least absolute shrinkage and selection operator regression analysis was conducted to identify the volumes or connectivity of the total thalamus and 6 thalamic subregions that have the strongest association with cognitive performance. Linear regression and mediation analyses were performed to test the association of least absolute shrinkage and selection operator-selected thalamic subregion volume or MD with cognitive performance, while adjusting for age and education. Results: We found that higher MD of the thalamic-motor tract was associated with worse processing speed (β=-0.27; P<0.001), higher MD of the thalamic-frontal tract was associated with worse executive function (β=-0.24; P=0.001), and memory (β=-0.28; P<0.001), respectively. The mediation analysis showed that MD of thalamocortical tracts mediated the association between corresponding thalamic subregion volumes and the cognitive performances in 3 domains. Conclusions: Our results suggest that the structural alterations of thalamus are linked to cognitive impairment in SVD, largely depending on the damage pattern of the white matter tracts connecting specific thalamic subregions and cortical regions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1367-1376
Number of pages10
Issue number5
Early online date13 Mar 2023
Publication statusPublished - May 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • cerebral small vessel disease
  • cognitive impairments
  • cortical regions
  • thalamus
  • white matter


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