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Neural Plasticity
Volume 2017 (2017), Article ID 4050536, 10 pages
Research Article

White Matter Hyperintensity Load Modulates Brain Morphometry and Brain Connectivity in Healthy Adults: A Neuroplastic Mechanism?

1Department of Neuroscience, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK
2Functional MR, S.Orsola-Malpighi Hospital, Department of Biomedical and Neuromotor Science (DIBINEM), Bologna, Italy

Correspondence should be addressed to Matteo De Marco

Received 30 March 2017; Accepted 3 July 2017; Published 3 August 2017

Academic Editor: J. Michael Wyss

Copyright © 2017 Matteo De Marco et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


White matter hyperintensities (WMHs) are acquired lesions that accumulate and disrupt neuron-to-neuron connectivity. We tested the associations between WMH load and (1) regional grey matter volumes and (2) functional connectivity of resting-state networks, in a sample of 51 healthy adults. Specifically, we focused on the positive associations (more damage, more volume/connectivity) to investigate a potential route of adaptive plasticity. WMHs were quantified with an automated procedure. Voxel-based morphometry was carried out to model grey matter. An independent component analysis was run to extract the anterior and posterior default-mode network, the salience network, the left and right frontoparietal networks, and the visual network. Each model was corrected for age, global levels of atrophy, and indices of brain and cognitive reserve. Positive associations were found with morphometry and functional connectivity of the anterior default-mode network and salience network. Within the anterior default-mode network, an association was found in the left mediotemporal-limbic complex. Within the salience network, an association was found in the right parietal cortex. The findings support the suggestion that, even in the absence of overt disease, the brain actuates a compensatory (neuroplastic) response to the accumulation of WMH, leading to increases in regional grey matter and modified functional connectivity.