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Coupled changes in brain white matter microstructure and fluid intelligence in later life

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)8672-8682
Number of pages11
JournalThe Journal of Neuroscience
Issue number22
Publication statusPublished - 3 Jun 2015


Understanding ageing-related cognitive decline is of growing importance in ageing societies, but relatively little is known about its neural substrates. Measures of white matter microstructure are known to correlate cross-sectionally with cognitive ability measures, but only a few small studies have tested for longitudinal relations among these variables. We tested whether there were coupled changes in brain white matter microstructure indexed by fractional anisotropy (FA) and three broad cognitive domains (fluid intelligence, processing speed, and memory) in a large cohort of human participants with longitudinal diffusion tensor MRI and detailed cognitive data taken at ages 73 (n = 731) and 76 (n = 488) years. Longitudinal changes in white matter microstructure were coupled with changes in fluid intelligence, but not with processing speed or memory. Individuals with higher baseline white matter FA showed less decline in processing speed. Our results provide evidence for a longitudinal link between changes in white matter microstructure and ageing-related cognitive decline during the eighth decade of life. They are consistent with theoretical perspectives positing that a cortico-cortical ‘disconnection’ partly explains cognitive ageing.

    Research areas

  • Intelligence, Ageing, White matter, Diffusion tensor imaging, Longitudinal

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