, Volume 19, Issue 4, pp 415-435
Date: 25 Aug 2009

Cerebral White Matter Integrity and Cognitive Aging: Contributions from Diffusion Tensor Imaging

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Abstract

The integrity of cerebral white matter is critical for efficient cognitive functioning, but little is known regarding the role of white matter integrity in age-related differences in cognition. Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) measures the directional displacement of molecular water and as a result can characterize the properties of white matter that combine to restrict diffusivity in a spatially coherent manner. This review considers DTI studies of aging and their implications for understanding adult age differences in cognitive performance. Decline in white matter integrity contributes to a disconnection among distributed neural systems, with a consistent effect on perceptual speed and executive functioning. The relation between white matter integrity and cognition varies across brain regions, with some evidence suggesting that age-related effects exhibit an anterior–posterior gradient. With continued improvements in spatial resolution and integration with functional brain imaging, DTI holds considerable promise, both for theories of cognitive aging and for translational application.