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Diffusion MRI free water is a sensitive marker of age-related changes in the cingulum

By Manon Edde, Guillaume Theaud, Francois Rheault, Bixente Dilharreguy, Catherine Helmer, Jean-François Dartigues, Hélène Amieva, Michèle Allard, Maxime Descoteaux, Gwénaëlle Catheline

Posted 06 Dec 2019
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/867606

Diffusion MRI is extensively used to investigate changes in white matter microstructure. However, diffusion measures within white matter tissue can be affected by partial volume effects due to cerebrospinal fluid and white matter hyperintensities, especially in the aging brain. In previous aging studies, the cingulum bundle that plays a central role in the architecture of the brain networks supporting cognitive functions has been associated with cognitive deficits. However, most of these studies did not consider the partial volume effects on diffusion measures. The aim of this study was to evaluate the effect of free water elimination on diffusion measures of the cingulum in a group of 68 healthy elderly individuals. We first determined the effect of free water elimination on conventional DTI measures and then examined the effect of free water elimination on verbal fluency performance over 12 years. The cingulum bundle was reconstructed with a tractography pipeline including a white matter hyperintensities mask to limit the negative impact of hyperintensities on fiber tracking algorithms. We observed that free water elimination improved the sensitivity of conventional DTI measures to detect associations between tissue-specific diffusion measures of the cingulum and changes in verbal fluency in older individuals. Moreover, free water content measured along the cingulum was independently strongly associated with changes in verbal fluency. These observations suggest the importance of using free water elimination when studying brain aging and indicate that free water itself could be a relevant marker for age-related cingulum white matter modifications and cognitive decline. ### Competing Interest Statement The authors have declared no competing interest.

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