Cerebral small vessel disease (SVD) is an important cause of cognitive impairment. Important MRI manifestations of SVD include white matter hyperintensities (WMH) and lacunes. This narrative review addresses the role of anatomical lesion location in the impact of SVD on cognition, integrating findings from early autopsy studies with emerging findings from recent studies with advanced image analysis techniques. Early autopsy and imaging studies of small case series indicate that single lacunar infarcts in, for example the thalamus, caudate nucleus or internal capsule can cause marked cognitive impairment. However, the findings of such case studies may not be generalizable. Emerging location-based image analysis approaches are now being applied to large cohorts. Recent studies show that WMH burden in strategic white matter tracts, such as the forceps minor or anterior thalamic radiation (ATR), is more relevant in explaining variance in cognitive functioning than global WMH volume. These findings suggest that the future diagnostic work-up of memory clinic patients could potentially be improved by shifting from a global assessment of WMH and lacune burden towards a quantitative assessment of lesion volumes within strategic brain regions. In this review, a summary of currently known strategic regions for SVD-related cognitive impairment is provided, highlighting recent technical developments in SVD research. The potential and challenges of location-based approaches for diagnostic purposes in clinical practice are discussed, along with their potential prognostic and therapeutic applications.

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