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Parameters of water diffusion in white matter derived from diffusion-weighted imaging (DWI), such as fractional anisotropy (FA), mean, axial, and radial diffusivity (MD, AD and RD), and more recently, peak width of skeletonized mean diffusivity (PSMD), have been proposed as potential markers of normal and pathological brain ageing. However, their relative evolution over the entire adult lifespan in healthy individuals remains partly unknown during early and late adulthood, and particularly for the PSMD index. Here, we gathered and meta-analyzed cross-sectional diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) data from 10 population-based cohort studies in order to establish the time course of white matter water diffusion phenotypes from post-adolescence to late adulthood. DTI data were obtained from a total of 20,005 individuals aged 18.1 to 92.6 years and analyzed with the same pipeline for computing DTI metrics. For each individual MD, AD, RD, and FA mean values were computed over their FA volume skeleton, PSMD being calculated as the 90% peak width of the MD values distribution across the FA skeleton. Mean values of each DTI metric were found to strongly vary across cohorts, most likely due to major differences in DWI acquisition protocols as well as pre-processing and DTI model fitting. However, age effects on each DTI metric were found to be highly consistent across cohorts. RD, MD and AD variations with age exhibited the same U-shape pattern, first slowly decreasing during post-adolescence until the age of 30, 40 and 50, respectively, then progressively increasing until late life. FA showed a reverse profile, initially increasing then continuously decreasing, slowly until the 70's, then sharply declining thereafter. By contrast, PSMD constantly increased, first slowly until the 60's, then more sharply. These results demonstrate that, in the general population, age affects PSMD in a manner different from that of other DTI metrics. The constant increase in PSMD throughout the entire adult life, including during post-adolescence, indicates that PSMD could be an early marker of the ageing process.

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