Dissecting unique and common variance across body and brain health indicators using age prediction

Hum Brain Mapp. 2024 Apr 15;45(6):e26685. doi: 10.1002/hbm.26685.


Ageing is a heterogeneous multisystem process involving different rates of decline in physiological integrity across biological systems. The current study dissects the unique and common variance across body and brain health indicators and parses inter-individual heterogeneity in the multisystem ageing process. Using machine-learning regression models on the UK Biobank data set (N = 32,593, age range 44.6-82.3, mean age 64.1 years), we first estimated tissue-specific brain age for white and gray matter based on diffusion and T1-weighted magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data, respectively. Next, bodily health traits, including cardiometabolic, anthropometric, and body composition measures of adipose and muscle tissue from bioimpedance and body MRI, were combined to predict 'body age'. The results showed that the body age model demonstrated comparable age prediction accuracy to models trained solely on brain MRI data. The correlation between body age and brain age predictions was 0.62 for the T1 and 0.64 for the diffusion-based model, indicating a degree of unique variance in brain and bodily ageing processes. Bayesian multilevel modelling carried out to quantify the associations between health traits and predicted age discrepancies showed that higher systolic blood pressure and higher muscle-fat infiltration were related to older-appearing body age compared to brain age. Conversely, higher hand-grip strength and muscle volume were related to a younger-appearing body age. Our findings corroborate the common notion of a close connection between somatic and brain health. However, they also suggest that health traits may differentially influence age predictions beyond what is captured by the brain imaging data, potentially contributing to heterogeneous ageing rates across biological systems and individuals.

Keywords: ageing; body composition; brain age; cardiometabolic; health.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging* / physiology
  • Bayes Theorem
  • Body Composition / physiology
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / physiology
  • Female
  • Gray Matter / anatomy & histology
  • Gray Matter / diagnostic imaging
  • Humans
  • Machine Learning*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • White Matter / anatomy & histology
  • White Matter / diagnostic imaging