Differentiating maturational and aging-related changes of the cerebral cortex by use of thickness and signal intensity

Neuroimage. 2010 Aug 1;52(1):172-85. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2010.03.056. Epub 2010 Mar 27.


Cortical thickness decreases from childhood throughout life, as estimated by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). This monotone trajectory does not reflect the fundamentally different neurobiological processes underlying morphometric changes in development versus aging. We hypothesized that intracortical gray matter (GM) and subjacent white matter (WM) T1-weighted signal intensity would distinguish developmental and age-related changes in the cortex better than thickness. Intracortical GM and subjacent WM signal intensity and cortical thickness was measured across the brain surface in a healthy life span sample (n=429, 8-85 years). We also computed the relaxation rate of T2* (R2*) from multiecho sequences and mapped intracortical GM and subjacent WM values to the surface to delineate age-related variability in R2* and to adjust the T1 signal intensity for possible confounds of accumulated iron. While monotone age-related reductions in thickness were found, both intracortical GM and subcortical WM signal intensity showed inverted U patterns with peaks from eight to approximately 30 years of age. The spatial pattern of intracortical neurodevelopment followed a posterior-anterior gradient, with earliest maturation of occipital visual cortices and most protracted in superior frontal regions. From 50s and 60s, substantial signal reductions were observed in several regions, including the insula, cingulate, and inferior temporal gyrus. R2* showed similar patterns but peaked much later than the T1-weighted signal intensity measures. The results are presented as animations yielding detailed depictions of the dynamic regional variability in cortical neurodevelopment and aging and demonstrate that cortical thickness and T1-weighted signal intensity are sensitive to different cortical maturational and aging-related processes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / pathology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / anatomy & histology
  • Cerebral Cortex / growth & development*
  • Cerebral Cortex / pathology*
  • Child
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted / methods*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Nerve Fibers, Myelinated / pathology
  • Nerve Fibers, Unmyelinated / pathology
  • Organ Size
  • Young Adult