Disconnected aging: cerebral white matter integrity and age-related differences in cognition.
Cognition arises as a result of coordinated processing among distributed brain regions and disruptions to communication within these neural networks can result in cognitive dysfunction. Cortical disconnection may thus contribute to the declines in some aspects of cognitive functioning observed in healthy aging. Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) is ideally suited for the study of cortical disconnection as it provides indices of structural integrity within interconnected neural networks. The current review summarizes results of previous DTI aging research with the aim of identifying consistent patterns of age-related differences in white matter integrity, and of relationships between measures of white matter integrity and behavioral performance as a function of adult age. We outline a number of future directions that will broaden our current understanding of these brain-behavior relationships in aging. Specifically, future research should aim to (1) investigate multiple models of age-brain-behavior relationships; (2) determine the tract-specificity versus global effect of aging on white matter integrity; (3) assess the relative contribution of normal variation in white matter integrity versus white matter lesions to age-related differences in cognition; (4) improve the definition of specific aspects of cognitive functioning related to age-related differences in white matter integrity using information processing tasks; and (5) combine multiple imaging modalities (e.g., resting-state and task-related functional magnetic resonance imaging; fMRI) with DTI to clarify the role of cerebral white matter integrity in cognitive aging.
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