Silent cerebral infarcts (SCIs) are common in patients with sickle cell disease (SCD) and are thought to be caused by a mismatch between oxygen delivery and consumption. Functional cerebrovascular shunting is defined as reduced oxygen offloading due to the rapid transit of blood through the capillaries caused by increased flow and has been suggested as a potential mechanism underlying reduced oxygenation and SCI. We investigated the venous arterial spin labeling signal (VS) in the sagittal sinus as a proxy biomarker of cerebral functional shunting, and its association with hemodynamic imaging and hematological laboratory parameters. We included 28 children and 38 adults with SCD, and 10 healthy race-matched adult controls. VS, cerebral blood flow (CBF), velocity in the brain feeding arteries, oxygen extraction fraction (OEF) and cerebral metabolic rate of oxygen (CMRO2) were measured before and after acetazolamide administration. VS was higher in patients with SCD compared to controls (p<0.01) and was increased after acetazolamide administration in all groups (p<0.01). VS was primarily predicted by CBF (p<0.01), but CBF-corrected VS was also associated with decreased CMRO2 (p<0.01). Additionally, higher disease severity defined by low hemoglobin and increased hemolysis was associated with higher CBFcorrected VS. Finally, CMRO2 was negatively correlated with fetal hemoglobin, and positively correlated with lactate dehydrogenase, which could be explained by changes in oxygen affinity. These findings provide evidence for cerebral functional shunting and encourage future studies investigating the potential link to aberrant capillary exchange in SCD.
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