Background: Chronic kidney disease is strongly linked to neurocognitive deficits in adults and children, but the pathophysiologic processes leading to these deficits remain poorly understood. The NiCK study (Neurocognitive Assessment and Magnetic Resonance Imaging Analysis of Children and Young Adults with Chronic Kidney Disease) seeks to address critical gaps in our understanding of the biological basis for neurologic abnormalities in chronic kidney disease. In this report, we describe the objectives, design, and methods of the NiCK study. Design/methods: The NiCK Study is a cross-sectional cohort study in which neurocognitive and neuroimaging phenotyping is performed in children and young adults, aged 8 to 25 years, with chronic kidney disease compared to healthy controls. Assessments include (1) comprehensive neurocognitive testing (using traditional and computerized methods); (2) detailed clinical phenotyping; and (3) multimodal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to assess brain structure (using T1-weighted MRI, T2-weighted MRI, and diffusion tensor imaging), functional connectivity (using functional MRI), and blood flow (using arterial spin labeled MRI). Primary analyses will examine group differences in neurocognitive testing and neuroimaging between subjects with chronic kidney disease and healthy controls. Mechanisms responsible for neurocognitive dysfunction resulting from kidney disease will be explored by examining associations between neurocognitive testing and regional changes in brain structure, functional connectivity, or blood flow. In addition, the neurologic impact of kidney disease comorbidities such as anemia and hypertension will be explored. We highlight aspects of our analytical approach that illustrate the challenges and opportunities posed by data of this scope. Discussion: The NiCK study provides a unique opportunity to address key questions about the biological basis of neurocognitive deficits in chronic kidney disease. Understanding these mechanisms could have great public health impact by guiding screening strategies, delivery of health information, and targeted treatment strategies for chronic kidney disease and its related comorbidities.
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