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Arch Clin Neuropsychol. 2018 Nov 1;33(7):861-874. doi: 10.1093/acn/acx109.

Relation of Retinal and Serum Lutein and Zeaxanthin to White Matter Integrity in Older Adults: A Diffusion Tensor Imaging Study.

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Department of Psychology, University of Georgia, Athens, GA, USA.
Bio-Imaging Research Center, Paul C. Coverdell Center, University of Georgia, Athens, GA, USA.



Lutein (L) and zeaxanthin (Z) are phytonutrients that accumulate in human brain tissue and positively impact cognition. Given their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties and their role in stabilizing cell membranes, L&Z may relate to measures of white matter integrity (WMI).


The current study tested the relation of retinal (macular pigment optical density/MPOD) and blood serum concentrations of L&Z to WMI in community-dwelling older adults (n = 54) using diffusion tensor imaging (DTI). Younger adults (n = 38) were recruited as a control group to confirm age-related changes in WMI. A priori analyses focused on four regions of interest (ROIs-genu of the corpus callosum, cingulum, fornix, and uncinate fasciculus). Exploratory whole-brain analyses were also conducted.


Consistent with previous literature, age group (young vs. old) negatively predicted WMI globally, in the genu, cingulum, and fornix (p < .001). ROI analysis in the older adult sample showed relations of MPOD and serum L&Z to better WMI in the uncinate fasciculus and cingulum (p < .05, FWE-corrected). Whole-brain analysis suggested associations between L&Z and WMI in both anterior white matter tracts vulnerable to age-related decline and posterior tracts (p < .01, uncorrected).


The current study is among the first to use neuroimaging to measure the relation of L&Z to brain structure in vivo. Results confirm previous findings that L&Z influence white matter integrity, particularly in regions vulnerable to age-related decline. The current study contributes to a growing literature investigating the relationship between diet and neural integrity by identifying white matter tracts that may be associated with modifiable dietary factors in older adults.


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