Edith V. Sullivan Ph.D., Torsten Rohlfing & Adolf Pfefferbaum (2010) Longitudinal Study of Callosal Microstructure in the Normal Adult Aging Brain Using Quantitative DTI Fiber Tracking, Developmental Neuropsychology, 35:3, 233-256, DOI: 10.1080/87565641003689556
We present a review of neuroimaging studies of normal adult aging conducted with diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) and data from one of the first longitudinal studies using DTI to study normal aging. To date, virtually all DTI studies of normal adult aging have been cross-sectional and have identified several patterns of white matter microstructural sparing and compromise that differentiate regional effects, fiber type, and diffusivity characteristics: (1) fractional anisotropy (FA) is lower and mean diffusivity is higher in older than younger adults, (2) aging is characterized by an anterior-to-posterior gradient of greater-to-lesser compromise also seen in superior-to-inferior fiber systems, and (3) association fibers connecting cortical sites appear to be more vulnerable to aging than projection fibers. The results of this longitudinal study of the macrostructure and microstructure of the corpus callosum yielded a consistent pattern of differences between healthy, young (20s to 30s) and elderly (60s to 70s) men and women without change over 2 years. We then divided the fibers of the corpus callosum into the midsagittal strip and the lateral distal fibers in an attempt to identify the locus of the age-related differences. The results indicated that, on average, mean values of FA and longitudinal diffusivity (λL) were lower in the distal than midsagittal fibers in both groups, but the age effects and the anterior-to-posterior gradients were more pronounced for the distal than midsagittal fibers and extended more posteriorly in the distal than midsagittal fibers. Despite lack of evidence for callosal aging over 2 years, ventricular enlargement occurred and was disproportionately greater in the elderly relative to the young group, being 8.2% in the elderly but only 1.2% in the young group. Thus, different brain regions can express different rates of change with aging. Our longitudinal DTI data indicate that normal aging is associated with declining FA and increasing diffusivity in both λL (longitudinal diffusivity) and λT (transverse diffusivity), perhaps defining the normal ontological condition rather than a pathological one, which can be marked by low FA and low diffusivity.