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J Neural Transm (Vienna). 2013 Sep;120(9):1369-95. doi: 10.1007/s00702-013-0971-7. Epub 2013 Jan 18.

Tracking cerebral white matter changes across the lifespan: insights from diffusion tensor imaging studies.

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School of Biological Sciences, Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, Singapore.


Delineating the normal development of brain white matter (WM) over the human lifespan is crucial to improved understanding of underlying WM pathology in neuropsychiatric and neurological conditions. We review the extant literature concerning diffusion tensor imaging studies of brain WM development in healthy individuals available until October 2012, summarise trends of normal development of human brain WM and suggest possible future research directions. Temporally, brain WM maturation follows a curvilinear pattern with an increase in fractional anisotropy (FA) from newborn to adolescence, decelerating in adulthood till a plateau around mid-adulthood, and a more rapid decrease of FA from old age onwards. Spatially, brain WM tracts develop from central to peripheral regions, with evidence of anterior-to-posterior maturation in commissural and projection fibres. The corpus callosum and fornix develop first and decline earlier, whilst fronto-temporal WM tracts like cingulum and uncinate fasciculus have protracted maturation and decline later. Prefrontal WM is most vulnerable with greater age-related FA reduction compared with posterior WM. Future large scale studies adopting longitudinal design will better clarify human brain WM changes over time.

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