Hippocampal dentate gyrus integrity revealed with ultrahigh resolution diffusion imaging predicts memory performance in older adults

Hippocampus. 2022 Sep;32(9):627-638. doi: 10.1002/hipo.23456. Epub 2022 Jul 15.


Medial temporal lobe (MTL) atrophy is a core feature of age-related cognitive decline and Alzheimer's disease (AD). While regional volumes and thickness are often used as a proxy for neurodegeneration, they lack the sensitivity to serve as an accurate diagnostic test and indicate advanced neurodegeneration. Here, we used a submillimeter resolution diffusion weighted MRI sequence (ZOOMit) to quantify microstructural properties of hippocampal subfields in older adults (63-98 years old) using tensor derived measures: fractional anisotropy (FA) and mean diffusivity (MD). We demonstrate that the high-resolution sequence, and not a standard resolution sequence, identifies dissociable profiles for CA1, dentate gyrus (DG), and the collateral sulcus. Using ZOOMit, we show that advanced age is associated with increased MD of the CA1 and DG as well as decreased FA of the DG. Increased MD of the DG, reflecting decreased cellular density, mediated the relationship between age and word list recall. Further, increased MD in the DG, but not DG volume, was linked to worse spatial pattern separation. Our results demonstrate that ultrahigh-resolution diffusion imaging enables the detection of microstructural differences in hippocampal subfield integrity and will lead to novel insights into the mechanisms of age-related memory loss.

Keywords: aging; dentate gyrus; hippocampus; magnetic resonance imaging; memory.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Atrophy
  • Dentate Gyrus / diagnostic imaging
  • Hippocampus* / diagnostic imaging
  • Hippocampus* / pathology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging* / methods
  • Middle Aged
  • Temporal Lobe