Age-Dependent Cortical Thinning of Peripheral Visual Field Representations in Primary Visual Cortex

Front Aging Neurosci. 2016 Oct 25;8:248. doi: 10.3389/fnagi.2016.00248. eCollection 2016.


The cerebral cortex changes throughout the lifespan, and the cortical gray matter in many brain regions becomes thinner with advancing age. Effects of aging on cortical thickness (CT) have been observed in many brain regions, including areas involved in basic perceptual functions such as processing visual inputs. An important property of early visual cortices is their topographic organization-the cortical structure of early visual areas forms a topographic map of retinal inputs. Primary visual cortex (V1) is considered to be the most basic cortical area in the visual processing hierarchy, and is topographically organized from posterior (central visual representation) to anterior (peripheral visual representation) along the calcarine sulcus. Some studies have reported strong age-dependent cortical thinning in portions of V1 that likely correspond to peripheral visual representations, while there is less evidence of substantial cortical thinning in central V1. However, the effect of aging on CT in V1 as a function of its topography has not been directly investigated. To address this gap in the literature, we estimated the CT of different eccentricity sectors in V1 using T1-weighted MRI scans acquired from groups of healthy younger and older adults, and then assessed whether between-group differences in V1 CT depended on cortical eccentricity. These analyses revealed age-dependent cortical thinning specific to peripheral visual field representations in anterior portions of V1, but did not provide evidence for age-dependent cortical thinning in other portions of V1. Additional analyses found similar effects when analyses were restricted to the gyral crown, sulcul depth and sulcul wall, indicating that these effects are not likely due to differences in gyral/sulcul contributions to our regions of interest (ROI). Importantly, this finding indicates that age-dependent changes in cortical structure may differ among functionally distinct zones within larger canonical cortical areas. Likely relationships to known age-related declines in visual performance are discussed to provide direction for future research in this area.

Keywords: aging; cortical thickness; primary visual cortex (V1); structural MRI; visual cortex organization.