Cysteine-altering NOTCH3 variants identical to those causing the rare monogenic form of stroke, CADASIL (cerebral autosomal dominant arteriopathy with subcortical infarcts and leukoencephalopathy), have been reported more common than expected in the general population, but their clinical significance and contribution to stroke and dementia risk in the community remain unclear.
Cysteine-altering NOTCH3 variants were identified in UK Biobank whole-exome sequencing data (N=200 632). Frequency of stroke, vascular dementia and other clinical features of CADASIL, and MRI white matter hyperintensity volume were compared between variant carriers and non-carriers. MRIs from those with variants were visually rated, each matched with three controls.
Of 200 632 participants with exome sequencing data available, 443 (~1 in 450) carried 67 different cysteine-altering NOTCH3 variants. After adjustment for various covariates, NOTCH3 variant carriers had increased risk of stroke (OR: 2.33, p=0.0004) and vascular dementia (OR: 5.00, p=0.007), and increased white matter hyperintensity volume (standardised difference: 0.52, p<0.001) and white matter ultrastructural damage on diffusion MRI (standardised difference: 0.72, p<0.001). On visual analysis of MRIs from 47 carriers and 148 matched controls, variants were associated with presence of lacunes (OR: 5.97, p<0.001) and cerebral microbleeds (OR: 4.38, p<0.001). White matter hyperintensity prevalence was most increased in the anterior temporal lobes (OR: 7.65, p<0.001) and external capsule (OR: 13.32, p<0.001).
Cysteine-changing NOTCH3 variants are more common in the general population than expected from CADASIL prevalence and are risk factors for apparently ‘sporadic’ stroke and vascular dementia. They are associated with MRI changes of small vessel disease, in a distribution similar to that seen in CADASIL.