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Neuropsychol Rev. 2009 Dec;19(4):415-35. doi: 10.1007/s11065-009-9113-2. Epub 2009 Aug 25.

Cerebral white matter integrity and cognitive aging: contributions from diffusion tensor imaging.

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  • 1Center for the Study of Aging and Human Development, Duke University Medical Center, Durham, NC 27710, USA. djm@geri.duke.edu

Abstract

The integrity of cerebral white matter is critical for efficient cognitive functioning, but little is known regarding the role of white matter integrity in age-related differences in cognition. Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) measures the directional displacement of molecular water and as a result can characterize the properties of white matter that combine to restrict diffusivity in a spatially coherent manner. This review considers DTI studies of aging and their implications for understanding adult age differences in cognitive performance. Decline in white matter integrity contributes to a disconnection among distributed neural systems, with a consistent effect on perceptual speed and executive functioning. The relation between white matter integrity and cognition varies across brain regions, with some evidence suggesting that age-related effects exhibit an anterior-posterior gradient. With continued improvements in spatial resolution and integration with functional brain imaging, DTI holds considerable promise, both for theories of cognitive aging and for translational application.

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