Philadelphia, PA, February 3, 2014 – The white matter microstructure, the communication pathways of the brain, continues to develop/mature as one ages. Studies link age-related differences in white matter microstructure to specific cognitive abilities in childhood and adulthood.
Most prior studies, however, did not include individuals from the entire life span or evaluated a limited section of white matter tracts. This knowledge gap prompted a new study published this week in Biological Psychiatry.
Dr. Bart Peters, of the Zucker Hillside Hospital, and his colleagues investigated the relationship of age and neurocognitive performance to nine white matter tracts from childhood to late adulthood.
To accomplish this, they recruited 296 healthy volunteers who ranged from 8 to 68 years of age. The participants completed a comprehensive battery of tests designed to measure their cognitive functioning, including speed, attention, memory, and learning. They also underwent a non-invasive diffusion tensor imaging scan, a technology that allowed the researchers to create maps of the 9 major white matter tracts under investigation.
The combination of this data allowed them to identify the neurocognitive correlates of each white matter tract in relation to its unique aging pattern.
They found that, from childhood into early adulthood, differences in fractional anisotropy – a measure of connectivity – of the cingulum were associated with executive functioning, whereas fractional anisotropy of the inferior fronto-occipital fasciculus was associated with visual learning and global cognitive performance via speed of processing.
"Our study identified key brain circuits that develop during adolescence and young adulthood that are associated with the growth of learning, memory and planning abilities. These findings suggest that young people may not have full capacity of these functions until these connections have completed their normal trajectory of maturation beyond adolescence," explained Peters.
"Our brain is changing throughout our lives. These changes underlie the capacities that emerge and are refined through adulthood," commented Dr. John Krystal, Editor of Biological Psychiatry. "There are clues that the steps that we take to preserve our medical health and stimulate our minds also serve to further refine and maintain these connections. For good reasons, attending to brain health is increasingly a focus of healthy aging."
In addition, many individuals diagnosed with psychiatric disorders suffer with neurocognitive dysfunction as part of their illness, which is particularly difficult to alleviate with currently available treatments. Studies such as this may help to identify specific brain circuits/pathways that could serve as potential targets for treatment interventions.
The article is "Age-Related Differences in White Matter Tract Microstructure Are Associated with Cognitive Performance from Childhood to Adulthood" by Bart D. Peters, Toshikazu Ikuta, Pamela DeRosse, Majnu John, Katherine E. Burdick, Patricia Gruner, Daniel M. Prendergast, Philip R. Szeszko, and Anil K. Malhotra (doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2013.05.020). The article appears in Biological Psychiatry, Volume 75, Issue 3 (February 1, 2014), published by Elsevier.
Notes for editors
Full text of the article is available to credentialed journalists upon request; contact Rhiannon Bugno at +1 214 648 0880 or Biol.Psych@utsouthwestern.edu. Journalists wishing to interview the authors may contact Dr. Bart Peters at +1 718 470 8000 or BPeters1@NSHS.edu.
The authors' affiliations, and disclosures of financial and conflicts of interests are available in the article.
John H. Krystal, M.D., is Chairman of the Department of Psychiatry at the Yale University School of Medicine, Chief of Psychiatry at Yale-New Haven Hospital, and a research psychiatrist at the VA Connecticut Healthcare System. His disclosures of financial and conflicts of interests are available here.
About Biological Psychiatry
Biological Psychiatry is the official journal of the Society of Biological Psychiatry, whose purpose is to promote excellence in scientific research and education in fields that investigate the nature, causes, mechanisms and treatments of disorders of thought, emotion, or behavior. In accord with this mission, this peer-reviewed, rapid-publication, international journal publishes both basic and clinical contributions from all disciplines and research areas relevant to the pathophysiology and treatment of major psychiatric disorders.
The journal publishes novel results of original research which represent an important new lead or significant impact on the field, particularly those addressing genetic and environmental risk factors, neural circuitry and neurochemistry, and important new therapeutic approaches. Reviews and commentaries that focus on topics of current research and interest are also encouraged.
Biological Psychiatry is one of the most selective and highly cited journals in the field of psychiatric neuroscience. It is ranked 4th out of 135 Psychiatry titles and 13th out of 251 Neurosciences titles in the Journal Citations Reports® published by Thomson Reuters. The 2012 Impact Factor score for Biological Psychiatry is 9.247.
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