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A General Factor of Brain White Matter Integrity Predicts Information Processing Speed in Healthy Older People

Author(s): L. Penke, S. M. Maniega, C. Murray, A. J. Gow, M. C. V. Hernandez, J. D. Clayden, J. M. Starr, J. M. Wardlaw, M. E. Bastin, I. J. Deary

Human white matter integrity has been related to information processing speed, but it is unknown whether impaired integrity results from localized processes or is a general property shared across white matter tracts. Based on diffusion MRI scans of 132 healthy individuals with a narrow age range around 72 years, the integrity of eight major white matter tracts was quantified using probabilistic neighborhood tractography. Principal component analyses (PCAs) were conducted on the correlations between the eight tracts, separately for four tract-averaged integrity parameters: fractional anisotropy, mean diffusivity, and radial and axial diffusivity. For all four parameters, the PCAs revealed a single general factor explaining similar to 45% of the individual differences across all eight tracts. Individuals' scores on a general factor that captures the common variance in white matter integrity had significant associations with a general factor of information processing speed for fractional anisotropy (r = -0.24, p = 0.007) and radial diffusivity (r = 0.21, p = 0.016), but not with general intelligence or memory factors. Individual tracts showed no associations beyond what the common integrity factor explained. Just as different types of cognitive ability tests share much of their variance, these novel findings show that a substantial amount of variance in white matter integrity is shared between different tracts. Therefore, impaired cortical connection is substantially a global process affecting various major tracts simultaneously. Further studies should investigate whether these findings relate more to the role of tract integrity and information processing speed in nonpathological cognitive aging or in lifelong-stable processes.

Full version: Available here

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ISBN: 0270-6474
Publication Year: 2010
Periodical: Journal of Neuroscience
Periodical Number: 22
Volume: 30
Pages: 7569-7574
Author Address: Penke, L Univ Edinburgh, Dept Psychol, Ctr Cognit Ageing & Cognit Epidemiol, 7 George Sq, Edinburgh EH8 9JZ, Midlothian, Scotland Univ Edinburgh, Dept Psychol, Ctr Cognit Ageing & Cognit Epidemiol, Edinburgh EH8 9JZ, Midlothian, Scotland Univ Edinburgh, Platform Sci Excellence SINAPSE Collaborat, Scottish Imaging Network, Edinburgh EH4 2XU, Midlothian, Scotland Univ Edinburgh, Dept Clin Neurosci, SFC Brain Imaging Res Ctr, Edinburgh EH4 2XU, Midlothian, Scotland UCL, Inst Child Hlth, London WC1N 1EH, England Univ Edinburgh, Geriatr Med Unit, Edinburgh EH4 2DN, Midlothian, Scotland Univ Edinburgh, Dept Med & Radiol Sci Med Phys, Edinburgh EH4 2XU, Midlothian, Scotland