We collected MRI diffusion tensor imaging data from 80 younger (20-32 years) and 63 older (60-71 years) healthy adults. Tract-based spatial statistics (TBSS) analysis revealed that white matter integrity, as indicated by decreased fractional anisotropy (FA), was disrupted in numerous structures in older compared to younger adults. These regions displayed five distinct region-specific patterns of age-related differences in other diffusivity properties: (1) increases in both radial and mean diffusivity; (2) increases in radial diffusivity; (3) no differences in parameters other than FA; (4) a decrease in axial and an increase in radial diffusivity; and (5) a decrease in axial and mean diffusivity. These patterns suggest different biological underpinnings of age-related decline in FA, such as demyelination, Wallerian degeneration, gliosis, and severe fiber loss, and may represent stages in a cascade of age-related degeneration in white matter microstructure. This first simultaneous description of age-related differences in FA, mean, axial, and radial diffusivity requires histological and functional validation as well as analyses of intermediate age groups and longitudinal samples.
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