Conference Coverage

Intensive BP control reduced dementia but increased brain atrophy and hurt cognition



– Intensive blood pressure control over 4 years reduced the overall risk of all-cause dementia by 17%, compared with standard care, but in subanalyses of the Systolic Blood Pressure Intervention Trial (SPRINT) it was also associated with significant decreases in cognitive function and total brain volume, researchers said at the Clinical Trials on Alzheimer’s Disease conference.

From left, Dr. Ilya Nasrallah, Dr. Nicholas Pajewski, and Sarah Gaussoin discuss the results of three subanalyses of the SPRINT MIND study. Michele G. Sullivan/MDedge News

From left, Dr. Ilya Nasrallah, Dr. Nicholas Pajewski, and Sarah Gaussoin discuss the results of three subanalyses of the SPRINT MIND study.

Whether these between-group differences were clinically meaningful was the topic of some debate, but they were enough to prompt Mary Sano, PhD, to strongly state her reservations.

“The cardiovascular effects of SPRINT were impressive, but I am concerned about minimizing the potentially negative effect on cognition,” said Dr. Sano, professor of psychiatry and director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York. “Do I really want to treat a healthy, nonimpaired patient like this if I have to warn them that their cognition might actually get worse? We just cannot minimize this risk. There is very strong evidence that [intensive treatment of blood pressure] might be a step backward in cognition. Would you lower your own blood pressure at a risk of losing some points on your cognition?”

The subanalyses were conducted as part of the SPRINT Memory and Cognition In Decreased Hypertension (SPRINT MIND) substudy, which looked at cardiovascular and mortality outcomes in 9,361 subjects whose hypertension was managed intensively or by standard care (target systolic blood pressure less than 120 mm Hg vs. less than 140 mm Hg). The trial was stopped early because of a 25% reduction in the primary composite cardiovascular disease endpoint and a 27% reduction in all-cause mortality in the intensive-treatment group.

SPRINT MIND examined the risks of incident probable dementia, mild cognitive impairment (MCI), and a composite outcome of both. Intensive control reduced the risk of MCI by 19% and the combined outcome by 15%.

At the conference, SPRINT MIND investigators presented three long-term subanalyses with a median intervention and follow-up time of about 4 years.

Sarah Gaussoin of Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, N.C., presented unpublished data detailing the effects of intensive control on several dementia subtypes: nonamnestic single domain, nonamnestic multidomain, amnestic single domain, and amnestic multidomain. There were 640 subjects in this analysis.

After a median of 3.3 years of intervention and 5 years of follow-up, there were no differences in the rate of incident probable dementia between the single- and multidomain nonamnestic groups. “We did see a strong 22% decreased risk in single-domain versus multidomain amnestic MCI, however,” she said.

Nicholas Pajewski, PhD, also of Wake Forest University, discussed more detailed cognitive outcomes in SPRINT MIND among 2,900 subjects who had a full battery of cognitive testing at every assessment over 5 years. The outcomes included memory deficit and processing speed.

Dr. Pajewski reported finding no significant difference between the groups in the rates of memory decline in either outcome. But there was a greater rate of decline in processing speed in the intensively treated group, he added. The difference was small but statistically significant.

The difference was largely driven by results of a single cognitive test – the Trail Making Test Part A. “It corresponded to about a 1.25-second increase over 4 years,” in processing speed on this test, Dr. Pajewski said.

There were no between-group differences in any of the other domains explored, including language, executive function, global cognitive function, or the Montreal Cognitive Assessment.

“Obviously, these results are perplexing,” given the overall positive results of SPRINT MIND, he said. “Intensive blood pressure control is a beneficial thing, and we expected to see an effect on memory, or a blunting of decline, and instead we saw some small decrements going the other way. This led us to speculate about what’s going on.”

The trial relied on a narrow definition of MCI that might have affected the outcomes. There was also a very broad range of ages in the study, ranging from 53 to 86 years. More importantly, he said, the original SPRINT study didn’t collect cognitive data at baseline, so there was no way to know how many subjects already might have had MCI when they entered the trial.

Ilya Nasrallah, MD, PhD, of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, presented MRI data on white-matter lesions, hippocampal volume fractional anisotropy in the cingulum, and cerebral blood flow. The median time between scans was 4 years, with a median treatment time of 3.4 years.

The standard-care group showed a significantly greater increase in white-matter lesion volume at the follow-up scan than did the intensive-treatment group (1.45 cm3 vs. 0.92 cm3). But the intensively treated group had significantly more brain atrophy, losing a median of 30.6 cm3, compared with a loss of 26.9 cm3 in the standard-treatment group.

“It was a very small difference amounting to less than 1% of the total brain volume, but it was still statistically significant,” Dr. Nasrallah said.

Loss of gray-matter volume drove about two-thirds of the difference in the intensively treated group. There was a corresponding increase in cerebrospinal fluid volume that was driven by differences in the ventricles and the subarachnoid space.

However, there were no significant differences in right, left, or total hippocampal volume. There also were no differences in cingulate bundle anisotropy or cerebral blood flow.

SPRINT was funded by the National Institutes of Health. None of the investigators reported having financial conflicts of interest.

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