Multimodal magnetic resonance imaging assessment of white matter aging trajectories over the lifespan of healthy individuals

George Bartzokis, Po H. Lu, Panthea Heydari, Alexander Couvrette, Grace J. Lee, Greta Kalashyan, Frank Freeman, John W. Grinstead, Pablo Villablanca, J. Paul Finn, Jim Mintz, Jeffry R. Alger, Lori L. Altshuler

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

120 Scopus citations


Background: Postmortem and volumetric imaging data suggest that brain myelination is a dynamic lifelong process that, in vulnerable late-myelinating regions, peaks in middle age. We examined whether known regional differences in axon size and age at myelination influence the timing and rates of development and degeneration/repair trajectories of white matter (WM) microstructure biomarkers. Methods: Healthy subjects (n = 171) 14-93 years of age were examined with transverse relaxation rate (R2) and four diffusion tensor imaging measures (fractional anisotropy [FA] and radial, axial, and mean diffusivity [RD, AxD, MD, respectively]) of frontal lobe, genu, and splenium of the corpus callosum WM (FWM, GWM, and SWM, respectively). Results: Only R 2 reflected known levels of myelin content with high values in late-myelinating FWM and GWM regions and low ones in early-myelinating SWM. In FWM and GWM, all metrics except FA had significant quadratic components that peaked at different ages (R2 < RD < MD < AxD), with FWM peaking later than GWM. Factor analysis revealed that, although they defined different factors, R2 and RD were the metrics most closely associated with each other and differed from AxD, which entered into a third factor. Conclusions: The R2 and RD trajectories were most dynamic in late-myelinating regions and reflect age-related differences in myelination, whereas AxD reflects axonal size and extra-axonal space. The FA and MD had limited specificity. The data suggest that the healthy adult brain undergoes continual change driven by development and repair processes devoted to creating and maintaining synchronous function among neural networks on which optimal cognition and behavior depend.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1026-1034
Number of pages9
JournalBiological Psychiatry
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 15 2012


  • Aging
  • Alzheimer
  • axial diffusivity
  • cognition
  • degeneration
  • development
  • diffusion tensor imaging (DTI)
  • fractional anisotropy
  • magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
  • myelin
  • oligodendrocytes
  • radial diffusivity
  • relaxation rate (R )
  • white matter (WM)

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biological Psychiatry


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