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Brain Connect. 2013;3(2):146-59. doi: 10.1089/brain.2012.0111.

Superficial white matter: effects of age, sex, and hemisphere.

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Laboratory of Neuro Imaging, Department of Neurology, Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, Los Angeles, California 90095-7334, USA.


Structural and diffusion imaging studies demonstrate effects of age, sex, and asymmetry in many brain structures. However, few studies have addressed how individual differences might influence the structural integrity of the superficial white matter (SWM), comprised of short-range association (U-fibers), and intracortical axons. This study thus applied a sophisticated computational analysis approach to structural and diffusion imaging data obtained from healthy individuals selected from the International Consortium for Brain Mapping (ICBM) database across a wide adult age range (n=65, age: 18-74 years, all Caucasian). Fractional anisotropy (FA), radial diffusivity (RD), and axial diffusivity (AD) were sampled and compared at thousands of spatially matched SWM locations and within regions-of-interest to examine global and local variations in SWM integrity across age, sex, and hemisphere. Results showed age-related reductions in FA that were more pronounced in the frontal SWM than in the posterior and ventral brain regions, whereas increases in RD and AD were observed across large areas of the SWM. FA was significantly greater in left temporoparietal regions in men and in the posterior callosum in women. Prominent leftward FA and rightward AD and RD asymmetries were observed in the temporal, parietal, and frontal regions. Results extend previous findings restricted to the deep white matter pathways to demonstrate regional changes in the SWM microstructure relating to processes of demyelination and/or to the number, coherence, or integrity of axons with increasing age. SWM fiber organization/coherence appears greater in the left hemisphere regions spanning language and other networks, while more localized sex effects could possibly reflect sex-specific advantages in information strategies.

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