Cerebral White Matter Mediation of Age-Related Differences in Picture Naming Across Adulthood.

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As people age, one of the most common complaints is difficulty with word retrieval. A wealth of behavioral research confirms such age-related language production deficits, yet the structural neural differences that relate to age-related language production deficits remains an open area of exploration. Therefore, the present study used a large sample of healthy adults across adulthood to investigate how age-related white matter differences in three key left-hemisphere language tracts may contribute to age-related differences in language ability. Specifically, we used diffusion tensor imaging to measure fractional anisotropy (FA) and radial diffusivity (RD) which are indicators of white matter structure. We then used a series of path models to test whether white matter from the superior longitudinal fasciculus (SLF), the inferior longitudinal fasciculus, and the frontal aslant tract (FAT) mediated age-related differences in one form of language production, picture naming. We found that FA, as well as RD from the SLF and FAT mediated the relation between age and picture naming performance, whereas a control tract (corticospinal) was not a mediator. Moreover, differences between mediation of picture naming and a control naming condition suggest that left SLF has a greater role in higher-order aspects of naming, such as semantic and lexical selection whereas left FAT is more sensitive to sensorimotor aspects of fluency or speech motor planning. These results suggest that dorsal white matter contributes to age-related differences in generating speech and may be particularly important in supporting word retrieval across adulthood.





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Troutman, Sara BW, David J Madden and Michele T Diaz (2022). Cerebral White Matter Mediation of Age-Related Differences in Picture Naming Across Adulthood. Neurobiology of language (Cambridge, Mass.), 3(2). pp. 272–286. 10.1162/nol_a_00065 Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/26046.

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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.

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