Studies of diffusion tensor imaging have focused mainly on the role of deep white matter tract microstructural abnormalities associated with aging and age-related cognitive decline. However, the potential role of superficial white matter (SWM) in aging and, by extension, cognitive-aging, is less clear. Healthy individuals (n = 141; F/M: 66/75 years) across the adult lifespan (18-86 years) underwent diffusion tensor imaging and a battery of cognitive testing. SWM was assessed via a combination of probabilistic tractography and tract-based spatial statistics (TBSS). A widespread inverse relationship of fractional anisotropy (FA) values in SWM with age was observed. SWM-FA adjacent to the precentral gyri was associated with fine-motor-speed, whereas performance in visuomotor-attention/processing speed correlated with SWM-FA in all 4 lobes of the left-hemisphere and in right parieto-occipital SWM-FA (family-wise error corrected p < 0.05). Independent of deep white matter-FA, right frontal and right occipital SWM-FA-mediated age effects on motor-speed and visuomotor-attention/processing speed, respectively. Altogether, our results indicate that SWM-FA contributes uniquely to age-related cognitive performance, and should be considered as a novel biomarker of cognitive-aging.
Keywords: Cognitive-aging; Diffusion tensor imaging; Superficial white matter.
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