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Age differences in brain white matter microstructure in UK Biobank (N = 3,513)

By Simon R Cox, Stuart J. Ritchie, Elliot M Tucker-Drob, David C Liewald, Saskia P. Hagenaars, Gail Davies, Joanna Wardlaw, Catharine R Gale, Mark E. Bastin, Ian J Deary

Posted 04 May 2016
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/051771 (published DOI: 10.1038/ncomms13629)

Quantifying the microstructural properties of the human brain's connections is necessary for understanding normal ageing and disease states. We examined brain white matter MRI data in 3,513 generally healthy people aged 45-75 years from the UK Biobank sample. Using conventional water diffusion measures and newer, as-yet rarely-studied indices from neurite orientation dispersion and density imaging (NODDI), we document large age differences in white matter microstructure. Mean diffusivity was the most age-sensitive diffusion measure, with negative age associations strongest in the thalamic radiation and association fibres. Inter-individual differences in white matter microstructure across brain tracts become increasingly correlated in older age. This connectivity 'de-differentiation' may reflect an age-related aggregation of systemic detrimental effects on the brain. We report several other novel results, including comparative age associations with volumetric indices and associations with hemisphere and sex. Results from this unusually large, single-scanner sample provide one of the most definitive characterisations to date of age differences in major white matter tracts in the human brain.

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