Characterizing cerebral hemodynamics across the adult lifespan with arterial spin labeling MRI data from the Human Connectome Project-Aging

Neuroimage. 2021 Apr 15:230:117807. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2021.117807. Epub 2021 Jan 29.


Arterial spin labeling (ASL) magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has become a popular approach for studying cerebral hemodynamics in a range of disorders and has recently been included as part of the Human Connectome Project-Aging (HCP-A). Due to the high spatial resolution and multiple post-labeling delays, ASL data from HCP-A holds promise for localization of hemodynamic signals not only in gray matter but also in white matter. However, gleaning information about white matter hemodynamics with ASL is challenging due in part to longer blood arrival times in white matter compared to gray matter. In this work, we present an analytical approach for deriving measures of cerebral blood flow (CBF) and arterial transit times (ATT) from the ASL data from HCP-A and report on gray and white matter hemodynamics in a large cohort (n = 234) of typically aging adults (age 36-90 years). Pseudo-continuous ASL data were acquired with labeling duration = 1500 ms and five post-labeling delays = 200 ms, 700 ms, 1200, 1700 ms, and 2200 ms. ATT values were first calculated on a voxel-wise basis through normalized cross-correlation analysis of the acquired signal time course in that voxel and an expected time course based on an acquisition-specific Bloch simulation. CBF values were calculated using a two-compartment model and with age-appropriate blood water longitudinal relaxation times. Using this approach, we found that white matter CBF reduces (ρ = 0.39) and white matter ATT elongates (ρ = 0.42) with increasing age (p < 0.001). In addition, CBF is lower and ATTs are longer in white matter compared to gray matter across the adult lifespan (Wilcoxon signed-rank tests; p < 0.001). We also found sex differences with females exhibiting shorter white matter ATTs than males, independently of age (Wilcoxon rank-sum test; p < 0.001). Finally, we have shown that CBF and ATT values are spatially heterogeneous, with significant differences in cortical versus subcortical gray matter and juxtacortical versus periventricular white matter. These results serve as a characterization of normative physiology across the human lifespan against which hemodynamic impairment due to cerebrovascular or neurodegenerative diseases could be compared in future studies.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Blood Flow Velocity / physiology
  • Cerebral Arteries / diagnostic imaging
  • Cerebral Arteries / physiology*
  • Cerebrovascular Circulation / physiology*
  • Connectome / methods*
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Longevity / physiology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Spin Labels*


  • Spin Labels