Diffusion models reveal white matter microstructural changes with ageing, pathology and cognition

Sheelakumari Raghavan, Robert I. Reid, Scott A. Przybelski, Timothy G. Lesnick, Jonathan Graff-Radford, Christopher G. Schwarz, David S. Knopman, Michelle M. Mielke, Mary M. Machulda, Ronald C. Petersen, Clifford R. Jack, Prashanthi Vemuri

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


White matter microstructure undergoes progressive changes during the lifespan, but the neurobiological underpinnings related to ageing and disease remains unclear. We used an advanced diffusion MRI, Neurite Orientation Dispersion and Density Imaging, to investigate the microstructural alterations due to demographics, common age-related pathological processes (amyloid, tau and white matter hyperintensities) and cognition. We also compared Neurite Orientation Dispersion and Density Imaging findings to the older Diffusion Tensor Imaging model-based findings. Three hundred and twenty-eight participants (264 cognitively unimpaired, 57 mild cognitive impairment and 7 dementia with a mean age of 68.3 ± 13.1 years) from the Mayo Clinic Study of Aging with multi-shell diffusion imaging, fluid attenuated inversion recovery MRI as well as amyloid and tau PET scans were included in this study. White matter tract level diffusion measures were calculated from Diffusion Tensor Imaging and Neurite Orientation Dispersion and Density Imaging. Pearson correlation and multiple linear regression analyses were performed with diffusion measures as the outcome and age, sex, education/occupation, white matter hyperintensities, amyloid and tau as predictors. Analyses were also performed with each diffusion MRI measure as a predictor of cognitive outcomes. Age and white matter hyperintensities were the strongest predictors of all white matter diffusion measures with low associations with amyloid and tau. However, neurite density decrease from Neurite Orientation Dispersion and Density Imaging was observed with amyloidosis specifically in the temporal lobes. White matter integrity (mean diffusivity and free water) in the corpus callosum showed the greatest associations with cognitive measures. All diffusion measures provided information about white matter ageing and white matter changes due to age-related pathological processes and were associated with cognition. Neurite orientation dispersion and density imaging and diffusion tensor imaging are two different diffusion models that provide distinct information about variation in white matter microstructural integrity. Neurite Orientation Dispersion and Density Imaging provides additional information about synaptic density, organization and free water content which may aid in providing mechanistic insights into disease progression.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberfcab106
JournalBrain Communications
Issue number2
StatePublished - 2021


  • cerebrovascular disease
  • diffusion tensor imaging
  • neurite dispersion density imaging

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Biological Psychiatry
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Neurology


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