Introduction: It is generally assumed that intracranial volume (ICV) remains constant after peaking in early adulthood. Thus ICV is used as a ‘proxy’ for original brain size when trying to estimate brain atrophy in older people in neuroimaging studies. However, physiological changes in the skull, such as thickening of the frontal inner table, are relatively common in older age and will reduce ICV. The potential influence that inner table skull thickening may have on ICV measurement in old age has yet to be investigated.
Methods: We selected 60 (31 males, 29 females) representative older adults aged 71.1-74.3 years from a community-dwelling ageing cohort, the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936. A semi-automatically derived current ICV measurement obtained from high resolution T1-weighted volume scans was compared to the estimated original ICV by excluding inner skull table thickening using expert manual image processing.
Results: Inner table skull thickening reduced ICV from an estimated original 1480.0 ml to a current 1409.1 ml, a median decrease of 7.3% (Z= -6.334; p<0.001), and this reduction was more prominent in women than men (median decrease 114.6 vs. 101.9 ml respectively). This led to potential significant underestimations of brain atrophy in this sample by 53% (p<0.001) and obscured potential gender differences. Conclusions: The effects of skull thickening are important to consider when conducting research in ageing, as they can obscure gender differences and result in underestimation of brain atrophy. Research into reliable methods of determining the estimated original ICV is required for research into brain ageing. (c) 2013 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.