Age differences in speed of processing are partially mediated by differences in axonal integrity

Neuroimage. 2011 Apr 1;55(3):1287-97. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2011.01.002. Epub 2011 Jan 11.


Advanced age is associated with declines in brain structure and in cognitive performance, but it is unclear which aspects of brain aging mediate cognitive declines. We inquired if individual differences in white matter integrity contribute to age differences in two cognitive domains with established vulnerability to aging: executive functioning and speed of processing. The participants were healthy volunteers aged 50-81, some of whom had elevated blood pressure, a known vascular risk factor. Using latent variable analyses, we examined whether age differences in regional white matter integrity mediated age-related differences in executive functions and speed of processing. Although diffusion-related latent variables showed stronger age differences than white matter volumes and white matter hyperintensity volumes, only one of them was significantly associated with cognitive performance. Smaller linear anisotropy partially mediated age-related reduction in speed of processing. The effect was significant in posterior (temporal-parietal-occipital) but not anterior (frontal) region, and appeared stronger for cognitive rather than reaction time measures of processing speed. The presence of hypertensive participants did not affect the results. We conclude that in healthy adults, deterioration of axonal integrity and ensuing breech of connectivity may underpin age-related slowing of information processing.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Axons / physiology*
  • Brain / cytology*
  • Brain / growth & development*
  • Brain / physiology
  • Cognition / physiology
  • Diffusion Tensor Imaging
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypertension / physiopathology
  • Hypertension / psychology
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Models, Neurological
  • Models, Structural
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Sex Characteristics
  • Young Adult