The purpose of this study of sickle cell disease (SCD) was to determine whether arteriopathy, measurable as intracranial vessel signal loss on magnetic resonance angiography (MRA), was associated with low nocturnal hemoglobin oxygen saturation (SpO2) or hemolytic rate, measurable as reticulocytosis or unconjugated hyperbilirubinemia.


Ninety-five East London children with SCD without prior stroke had overnight pulse oximetry, of whom 47 (26 boys, 39 hemoglobin SS; mean age 9.1 ± 3.1 years) also had MRA, transcranial Doppler (TCD), steady-state hemoglobin, and reticulocytes within 34 months. Two radiologists blinded to the other data graded arteriopathy on MRA as 0 (none) or as increasing severity grades 1, 2, or 3.


Grades 2 or 3 arteriopathy (n = 24; 2 with abnormal TCD) predicted stroke/TIA compared with grades 0 and 1 (log-rank 2 [1, n = 47] = 8.1, p = 0.004). Mean overnight SpO2 correlated negatively with reticulocyte percentage (r = –0.387; p = 0.007). Despite no significant differences across the degrees of arteriopathy in genotype, mean overnight SpO2 was higher (p < 0.01) in those with grade 0 (97.0% ± 1.6%) than those with grades 2 (93.9 ± 3.7%) or 3 (93.5% ± 3.0%) arteriopathy. Unconjugated bilirubin was not associated but reticulocyte percentage was lower (p < 0.001) in those with grade 0 than those with grades 2 and 3 arteriopathy. In multivariable logistic regression, lower mean overnight SpO2 (odds ratio 0.50, 95% confidence interval 0.26–0.96; p < 0.01) predicted arteriopathy independent of reticulocyte percentage (odds ratio 1.47, 95% confidence interval 1.15–1.87; p = 0.003).


Low nocturnal SpO2 and reticulocytosis are associated with intracranial arteriopathy in children with SCD. Preventative strategies might reduce stroke risk.


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