Diffusion Tensor Imaging of Deep Gray Matter Brain Structures: Effects of Age and Iron Concentration


Pfefferbaum, A., Adalsteinsson, E., Rohlfing, T., & Sullivan, E. V. (2010). Diffusion tensor imaging of deep gray matter brain structures: effects of age and iron concentration. Neurobiology of aging, 31(3), 482-493.


Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) of the brain has become a mainstay in the study of normal aging of white matter, and only recently has attention turned to the use of DTI to examine aging effects in gray matter structures. Of the many changes in the brain that occur with advancing age is increased presence of iron, notable in selective deep gray matter structures. In vivo detection and measurement of iron deposition is possible with magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) because of iron’s effect on signal intensity. In the process of a DTI study, a series of diffusion-weighted images (DWI) is collected, and while not normally considered as a major dependent variable in research studies, they are used clinically and they reveal striking conspicuity of the globus pallidus and putamen caused by signal loss in these structures, presumably due to iron accumulation with age. These iron deposits may in turn influence DTI metrics, especially of deep gray matter structures. The combined imaging modality approach has not been previously used in the study of normal aging. The present study used legacy DTI data collected in 10 younger (22–37 years) and 10 older (65–79 years) men and women at 3.0 T and fast spin-echo (FSE) data collected at 1.5 T and 3.0 T to derive an estimate of the field-dependent relaxation rate increase (the “FDRI estimate”) in the putamen, caudate nucleus, globus pallidus, thalamus, and a frontal white matter sample comparison region. The effect of age on the diffusion measures in the deep gray matter structures was distinctly different from that reported in white matter. In contrast to lower anisotropy and higher diffusivity typical in white matter of older relative to younger adults observed with DTI, both anisotropy and diffusivity were higher in the older than younger group in the caudate nucleus and putamen; the thalamus showed little effect of age on anisotropy or diffusivity. Signal intensity measured with DWI was lower in the putamen of elderly than young adults, whereas the opposite was observed for the white matter region and thalamus. As a retrospective study based on legacy data, the FDRI estimates of the putamen and visibly striking in the diffusion-weighted image of the basal ganglia structures.

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