Risk and protective factors for structural brain ageing in the eighth decade of life

Brain Struct Funct. 2017 Nov;222(8):3477-3490. doi: 10.1007/s00429-017-1414-2. Epub 2017 Apr 19.


Individuals differ markedly in brain structure, and in how this structure degenerates during ageing. In a large sample of human participants (baseline n = 731 at age 73 years; follow-up n = 488 at age 76 years), we estimated the magnitude of mean change and variability in changes in MRI measures of brain macrostructure (grey matter, white matter, and white matter hyperintensity volumes) and microstructure (fractional anisotropy and mean diffusivity from diffusion tensor MRI). All indices showed significant average change with age, with considerable heterogeneity in those changes. We then tested eleven socioeconomic, physical, health, cognitive, allostatic (inflammatory and metabolic), and genetic variables for their value in predicting these differences in changes. Many of these variables were significantly correlated with baseline brain structure, but few could account for significant portions of the heterogeneity in subsequent brain change. Physical fitness was an exception, being correlated both with brain level and changes. The results suggest that only a subset of correlates of brain structure are also predictive of differences in brain ageing.

Keywords: Ageing; Genetic; Lifestyle; Longitudinal; Prediction; Structural MRI.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging*
  • Apolipoproteins E / genetics
  • Brain / anatomy & histology*
  • Diffusion Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Diffusion Tensor Imaging
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Individuality
  • Male
  • Physical Fitness
  • Risk Factors
  • Socioeconomic Factors


  • ApoE protein, human
  • Apolipoproteins E