Superficial white matter across development, young adulthood, and aging: volume, thickness, and relationship with cortical features
Kurt G Schilling, Derek Archer, Francois Rheault, Ilwoo Lyu, Yuankai Huo, Leon Y Cai, Silvia A Bunge, Kevin S Weiner, John C Gore, Adam W Anderson, Bennett A Landman
Superficial white matter (SWM) represents a significantly understudied part of the human brain, despite comprising a large portion of brain volume and making up a majority of cortico-cortical white matter connections. Using multiple, high-quality datasets with large sample sizes (N = 2421, age range 5-100) in combination with methodological advances in tractography, we quantified features of SWM volume and thickness across the brain and across development, young adulthood, and aging. We had four primary aims: (1) characterize SWM thickness across brain regions (2) describe associations between SWM volume and age (3) describe associations between SWM thickness and age, and (4) quantify relationships between SWM thickness and cortical features. Our main findings are that (1) SWM thickness varies across the brain, with patterns robust across individuals and across the population at the region-level and vertex-level; (2) SWM volume shows unique volumetric trajectories with age that are distinct from gray matter and other white matter trajectories; (3) SWM thickness shows nonlinear cross-sectional changes across the lifespan that vary across regions; and (4) SWM thickness is associated with features of cortical thickness and curvature. For the first time, we show that SWM volume follows a similar trend as overall white matter volume, peaking at a similar time in adolescence, leveling off throughout adulthood, and decreasing with age thereafter. Notably, the relative fraction of total brain volume of SWM continuously increases with age, and consequently takes up a larger proportion of total white matter volume, unlike the other tissue types that decrease with respect to total brain volume. This study represents the first characterization of SWM features across the large portion of the lifespan and provides the background for characterizing normal aging and insight into the mechanisms associated with SWM development and decline.