Regional heterogeneity in limbic maturational changes: Evidence from integrating cortical thickness, volumetric and diffusion tensor imaging measures

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Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) studies of structural brain development have suggested that the limbic system is relatively preserved in comparison to other brain regions with healthy aging. The goal of this study was to systematically investigate age-related changes of the limbic system using measures of cortical thickness, volumetric and diffusion characteristics. We also investigated if the “relative preservation” concept is consistent across the individual sub-regions of the limbic system. T1 weighted structural MRI and Diffusion Tensor Imaging data from 476 healthy participants from the Brain Resource International Database was used for this study. Age-related changes in grey matter (GM)/white matter (WM) volume, cortical thickness, diffusional characteristics for the pericortical WM and for the fiber tracts associated with the limbic regions were quantified. A regional variability in the aging patterns across the limbic system was present. Four important patterns of age-related changes were highlighted for the limbic sub-regions: 1. early maturation of GM with late loss in the hippocampus and amygdala; 2. an extreme pattern of GM preservation in the entorhinal cortex; 3. a flat pattern of reduced GM loss in the anterior cingulate and the parahippocampus and; 4. accelerated GM loss in the isthmus and posterior cingulate. The GM volumetric data and cortical thickness measures proved to be internally consistent, while the diffusional measures provided complementary data that seem consistent with the GM trends identified. This heterogeneity can be hypothesized to be associated with age-related changes of cognitive function specialized for that region and direct connections to the other brain regions sub-serving these functions.

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