Socioeconomic status is positively correlated with frontal white matter integrity in aging
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- Johnson, N.F., Kim, C. & Gold, B.T. AGE (2013) 35: 2045. doi:10.1007/s11357-012-9493-8
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Socioeconomic status (SES) is an important reserve variable which has been shown to benefit the aging brain’s macrostructure. However, it remains unknown whether SES affects age-related changes in the brain’s white matter (WM) microstructure. Here, we used diffusion tensor imaging to explore the relationship between SES and three components of the diffusion tensor [fractional anisotropy (FA), axial diffusivity, and radial diffusivity (DR)]. Participants were 40 (16 male) cognitively normal young adults (mean age = 33.3 years, SD = 4.27) and 44 (19 male) cognitively normal community dwelling seniors (mean age = 66.2 years, SD = 7.5). Age-related FA declines were observed across a large portion of the WM skeleton. However, seniors with high SES showed lower age-related WM integrity declines in three frontal tracts: the right anterior corona radiata and bilateral portions of WM underlying the superior frontal gyri (SFG–WM). Positive SES–FA correlations were primarily driven by negative DR–SES correlations, suggesting that SES may buffer age-related declines in myelin. The functional significance of high SES in these frontal tracts was demonstrated through positive correlations with working memory performance. Possible mechanisms through which SES may attenuate the effects of age on frontal WM integrity are discussed.