Diffusion tensor imaging of cerebral white matter integrity in cognitive aging.

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2012-03

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Abstract

In this article we review recent research on diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) of white matter (WM) integrity and the implications for age-related differences in cognition. Neurobiological mechanisms defined from DTI analyses suggest that a primary dimension of age-related decline in WM is a decline in the structural integrity of myelin, particularly in brain regions that myelinate later developmentally. Research integrating behavioral measures with DTI indicates that WM integrity supports the communication among cortical networks, particularly those involving executive function, perceptual speed, and memory (i.e., fluid cognition). In the absence of significant disease, age shares a substantial portion of the variance associated with the relation between WM integrity and fluid cognition. Current data are consistent with one model in which age-related decline in WM integrity contributes to a decreased efficiency of communication among networks for fluid cognitive abilities. Neurocognitive disorders for which older adults are at risk, such as depression, further modulate the relation between WM and cognition, in ways that are not as yet entirely clear. Developments in DTI technology are providing a new insight into both the neurobiological mechanisms of aging WM and the potential contribution of DTI to understanding functional measures of brain activity. This article is part of a Special Issue entitled: Imaging Brain Aging and Neurodegenerative disease.

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10.1016/j.bbadis.2011.08.003

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Madden, David J, Ilana J Bennett, Agnieszka Burzynska, Guy G Potter, Nan-Kuei Chen and Allen W Song (2012). Diffusion tensor imaging of cerebral white matter integrity in cognitive aging. Biochimica et biophysica acta, 1822(3). pp. 386–400. 10.1016/j.bbadis.2011.08.003 Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/22541.

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Scholars@Duke

Madden

David Joseph Madden

Professor in Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

My research focuses primarily on the cognitive neuroscience of aging: the investigation of age-related changes in perception, attention, and memory, using both behavioral measures and neuroimaging techniques, including positron emission tomography (PET), functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI).

The behavioral measures have focused on reaction time, with the goal of distinguishing age-related changes in specific cognitive abilities from more general effects arising from a slowing in elementary perceptual processes. The cognitive abilities of interest include selective attention as measured in visual search tasks, semantic and episodic memory retrieval, and executive control processes.

The behavioral measures are necessary to define the cognitive abilities of interest, and the neuroimaging techniques help define the functional neuroanatomy of those abilities. The PET and fMRI measures provide information regarding neural activity during cognitive performance. DTI is a recently developed technique that images the structural integrity of white matter. The white matter tracts of the brain provide critical pathways linking the gray matter regions, and thus this work will complement the studies using PET and fMRI that focus on gray matter activation.

A current focus of the research program is the functional connectivity among regions, not only during cognitive task performance but also during rest. These latter measures, referred to as intrinsic functional connectivity, are beginning to show promise as an index of overall brain functional efficiency, which can be assessed without the implementation of a specific cognitive task. From DTI, information can be obtained regarding how anatomical connectivity constrains intrinsic functional connectivity. It will be important to determine the relative influence of white matter pathway integrity, intrinsic functional connectivity, and task-related functional connectivity, as mediators of age-related differences in behavioral measures of cognitive performance.

Ultimately, the research program can help link age-related changes in cognitive performance to changes in the structure and function of specific neural systems. The results also have implications for clinical translation, in terms of the identification of neural biomarkers for the diagnosis of neural pathology and targeting rehabilitation procedures.

Potter

Guy Glenn Potter

Associate Professor in Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences
Song

Allen W Song

Professor in Radiology

The research in our lab is concerned with advancing structural and functional MRI methodologies (e.g. fast and high-resolution imaging techniques) for human brain imaging. We also aim to improve our understanding of functional brain signals, including spatiotemporal characterizations of the blood oxygenation level dependent contrast and alternative contrast mechanisms that are more directly linked to the neuronal activities. Additional effort is invested in applying and validating the developed methods to study human functional neuroanatomy.


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