Longitudinal microstructural changes of cerebral white matter and their association with mobility performance in older persons


Nicola Moscufo, Dorothy B Wakefield, Dominik S Meier, Michele Cavallari, Charles RG Guttmann, William B White, and Leslie Wolfson. 2018. “Longitudinal microstructural changes of cerebral white matter and their association with mobility performance in older persons.” PLoS One, 13, 3, Pp. e0194051.


Mobility impairment in older persons is associated with brain white matter hyperintensities (WMH), a common finding in magnetic resonance images and one established imaging biomarker of small vessel disease. The contribution of possible microstructural abnormalities within normal-appearing white matter (NAWM) to mobility, however, remains unclear. We used diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) measures, i.e. fractional anisotropy (FA), mean diffusivity (MD), axial diffusivity (AD), radial diffusivity (RD), to assess microstructural changes within supratentorial NAWM and WMH sub-compartments, and to investigate their association with changes in mobility performance, i.e. Tinetti assessment and the 2.5-meters walk time test. We analyzed baseline (N = 86, age ≥75 years) and 4-year (N = 41) follow-up data. Results from cross-sectional analysis on baseline data showed significant correlation between WMH volume and NAWM-FA (r = -0.33, p = 0.002), NAWM-AD (r = 0.32, p = 0.003) and NAWM-RD (r = 0.39, p = 0.0002). Our longitudinal analysis showed that after 4-years, FA and AD decreased and RD increased within NAWM. In regional tract-based analysis decrease in NAWM-FA and increase in NAWM-RD within the genu of the corpus callosum correlated with slower walk time independent of age, gender and WMH burden. In conclusion, global DTI indices of microstructural integrity indicate that significant changes occur in the supratentorial NAWM over four years. The observed changes likely reflect white matter deterioration resulting from aging as well as accrual of cerebrovascular injury associated with small vessel disease. The observed association between mobility scores and regional measures of NAWM microstructural integrity within the corpus callosum suggests that subtle changes within this structure may contribute to mobility impairment.