White matter hyperintensity (WMH) lesions on brain MRI images are surrogate markers of cerebral small vessel disease (CSVD). Longitudinal studies examining the association between diabetes and WMH progression have yielded mixed results. Thus, in this study we investigated the association between HbA1c, a biomarker for the presence and severity of hyperglycemia, and longitudinal WMH change after adjusting for known risk factors for WMH progression. We recruited 64 participants from South Korean memory clinics to undergo brain MRI at the baseline and a two-year follow-up. We found: First, higher HbA1c was associated with greater global WMH volume (WMHV) changes after adjusting for known risk factors (B = 7.7E-04, p = 0.025); Second, the association between baseline WMHV and WMHV progression was only significant at diabetic levels of HbA1c (p < 0.05, when HbA1c > 6.51%), and non-APOE ε4 carriers showed a stronger association between HbA1c and WMHV progression (B = -2.59E-03, p = 0.004); Third, associations of WMHV progression with HbA1c were particularly apparent for deep WMHV change (B = 7.17E-04, p < 0.01) compared to periventricular WMHV change, and for frontal (B = 5.00E-04, p < 0.001) and parietal (B = 1.534-04, p < 0.05) WMHV change compared to occipital and temporal WMHV change. In conclusion, higher HbA1c levels were associated with greater two-year WMHV progression, especially in non-APOE ε4 participants or those with diabetic levels of HbA1c. These findings demonstrate that diabetes may potentially exacerbate cerebrovascular and white matter disease.

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