The structure of the cerebral cortex across adult life: age-related patterns of surface area, thickness, and gyrification

Cereb Cortex. 2013 Nov;23(11):2521-30. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhs231. Epub 2012 Aug 14.


Older adults exhibit global reductions in cortical surface area, but little is known about the regional patterns of reductions or how these relate to other measures of brain structure. This knowledge is critical to understanding the dynamic relationship between different macrostructural properties of the cortex throughout adult life. Here, cortical arealization, local gyrification index (LGI), and cortical thickness were measured vertex wise across the brain surface in 322 healthy adults (20-85 years), with the aims of 1) characterizing age patterns of the three separate cortical measures and 2) testing the age-independent relationships among cortical surface area, gyrification, and thickness. Surface area showed strong age-related decreases, particularly pronounced in dorsomedial prefrontal, lateral temporal, and fusiform cortices, independently of total white matter volume. LGI decreased with age independently of regional surface area, with strongest effects laterally, extending from the angular gyrus in all directions. As expected, regional surface area and LGI were positively related. However, both measures correlated negatively with thickness, indicating increasing local arealization and gyrification with decreasing cortical thickness. We suggest that this pattern of regional "cortical stretching" reflects the well-established phylogenetic principle of maximizing surface area and gyrification rather than increase thickness to facilitate brain connectivity and functional development.

Keywords: aging; cortical thickness; gray matter; magnetic resonance imaging morphometry; neurodevelopment.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / anatomy & histology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / growth & development*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Young Adult