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Age-related assessment of diffusion parameters in specific brain tracts correlated with cortical thinning


The aging process is associated with many brain structural alterations. These changes are not associated with neuronal loss but can be due to cortical structural changes that may be related to white matter (WM) structural alterations. In this study, we evaluated age-related changes in WM and gray matter (GM) parameters and how they correlate for specific brain tracts in a cohort of 158 healthy individuals, aged between 18 and 83 years old. In the tract-cortical analysis, cortical regions connected by tracts demonstrated similar thinning patterns for the majority of tracts. Additionally, a significant relationship was found between mean cortical thinning rate with fractional anisotropy (FA) and mean diffusivity (MD) alteration rates. For all tracts, age was the main effect controlling diffusion parameter alterations. We found no direct correlations between cortical thickness and FA or MD, except for in the fornix, for which the subcallosal gyrus thickness was significantly correlated to FA and MD (p < 0.05 FDR corrected). Our findings lead to the conclusion that alterations in the WM diffusion parameters are explained by the aging process, also associated with cortical thickness changes. Also, the alteration rates of the structural parameters are correlated to the different brain tracts in the aging process.

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Data was provided from the Center of Image Sciences and Medical Physics, in the Faculty of Medicine of Ribeirao Preto, University of Sao Paulo (CCIFM/HC-FMRP), with the approval of the Radiology Department head.

This work was presented in part at the ISMRM Meeting in Honolulu, April 2017, and at the OHBM Meeting in Vancouver, June 2017.


This study was supported by Fundação de Amparo à Pesquisa do Estado de São Paulo (FAPESP), grant number 2015/26227-7. CEGS received financial support from the CNPq (National Council for Scientific and Technological Development), grant number 311703/2014-3.

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MSP wrote the manuscript with comments from CEGS and ACS. All authors read and approved the final manuscript.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Maíra Siqueira Pinto.

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The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

The use of the retrospective data was approved by the local Research Ethics Committee (CAAE: 55268616.3.3001.5440 and 55268616.3.0000.5407). All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards. This article does not contain any studies with animals performed by any of the authors.

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Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the respective studies.

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Pinto, M.S., dos Santos, A.C. & Salmon, C.E.G. Age-related assessment of diffusion parameters in specific brain tracts correlated with cortical thinning. Neurol Sci 42, 1799–1809 (2021).

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  • Aging
  • Diffusion MRI
  • Structural connectivity
  • Cortical thickness
  • Tractography