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Brain grey and white matter predictors of verbal ability traits in older age: The Lothian Birth Cohort 1936

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Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)394-402
JournalNeuroImage
Volume156
Early online date24 May 2017
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Aug 2017

Abstract

Cerebral grey and white matter MRI parameters are related to general intelligence and some specific cognitive abilities. Less is known about how structural brain measures relate specifically to verbal processing abilities. We used multi-modal structural MRI to investigate the grey matter (GM) and white matter (WM) correlates of verbal ability in 556 healthy older adults (mean age = 72.68 years, s.d. = 0.72 years). Structural equation modelling was used to decompose verbal performance into two latent factors: a storage factor that indexed participants’ ability to store representations of verbal knowledge and an executive factor that measured their ability to regulate their access to this information in a flexible and task-appropriate manner. GM volumes and WM fractional anisotropy (FA) for components of the language/semantic network were used as predictors of these verbal ability factors. Volume of the ventral temporal cortices predicted participants’ storage scores (β = 0.12, FDR-adjusted p = 0.04), consistent with the theory that this region acts as a key substrate of semantic knowledge. This effect was mediated by childhood IQ, suggesting a lifelong association between ventral temporal volume and verbal knowledge, rather than an effect of cognitive decline in later life. Executive ability was predicted by FA fractional anisotropy of the arcuate fasciculus (β = 0.19, FDR-adjusted p = 0.001), a major language-related tract implicated in speech production. This result suggests that this tract plays a role in the controlled retrieval of word knowledge during speech. At a more general level, these data highlight a basic distinction between information representation, which relies on the accumulation of tissue in specialised GM regions, and executive control, which depends on long-range WM pathways for efficient communication across distributed cortical networks.

    Research areas

  • semantic knowledge, anterior temporal lobe, speech production, individual differences

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