White Matter Injury Is Associated with Reduced Manual Dexterity and Elevated Serum Ceramides in Subjects with Cerebral Small Vessel Disease

Yousef Hannawi, Lisa R. Yanek, Brian G. Kral, Lewis C. Becker, Dhananjay Vaidya, Norman J. Haughey, Diane M. Becker, Paul A. Nyquist

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Introduction: We have demonstrated that asymptomatic cerebral small vessel disease (cSVD) measured by white matter hyperintensity volume is associated with reduced manipulative manual dexterity on the Grooved Peg Board Test (GPBT) in middle-aged healthy individuals with a family history of early coronary artery disease. In this current study, we aim to identify the association of subcortical white matter microstructural impairment measured by diffusion tensor imaging, manual dexterity measured by GPBT and circulating serums ceramide, another marker for white matter injury. We hypothesize that lower regional fractional anisotropy (rFA) is associated with worse performance on GPBT and elevated serum ceramides in the same study population. Methods: rFA of 48 regions representing the subcortical white matters were analyzed in GeneSTAR participants in addition to serum ceramides and GPBT scores. Unadjusted univariable analyses with Bonferroni correction for multiple comparisons were completed using Spearman correlation for testing the associations between ceramides, rFA of subcortical white matter, and GPBT performance. Subsequently, sensitivity analyses were performed after excluding the participants that had any physical limitation that may influence their performance on GPBT. Finally, in the adjusted analysis using generalized estimating equation, linear regression models were performed for the areas that met significance threshold in the unadjusted analyses. Results: 112 subjects (age [49 ± 11], 51% female, 39.3% African American) were included. Adjusted analyses for the significant correlations that met the Bonferroni correction threshold in the unadjusted univariable analyses identified significant negative associations between rFA of the right fornix (RF) and log-GPBT score (β = -0.497, p = 0.037). In addition, rFA of RF negatively correlated with log serum ceramide levels (C18: β = -0.03, p = 0.003, C20: β = -0.0002, p = 0.004) and rFA of left genu of corpus callosum negatively correlated with log C18 level (β = -0.0103, p = 0.027). Conclusions: These results demonstrate that subcortical microstructural white matter disruption is associated with elevated serum ceramides and reduced manual dexterity in a population with cSVD. These findings suggest that injury to white matter tracts undermines neural networks, with functional consequences in a middle-aged population with cardiovascular risk factors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)100-107
Number of pages8
JournalCerebrovascular Diseases
Issue number1
StatePublished - Feb 2021


  • Ceramide
  • Cerebral small vessel disease
  • Diffusion tensor imaging
  • Grooved peg board test
  • Vascular cognitive impairment

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Cardiology and Cardiovascular Medicine


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