BMI-related cortical morphometry changes are associated with altered white matter structure.


BACKGROUND: While gross measures of brain structure have shown alterations with increasing body mass index (BMI), the extent and nature of such changes has varied substantially across studies. Here, we sought to determine whether small-scale morphometric measures might prove more sensitive and reliable than larger scale measures and whether they might offer a valuable opportunity to link cortical changes to underlying white matter changes. To examine this, we explored the association of BMI with millimetre-scale Gaussian curvature, in addition to standard measures of morphometry such as cortical thickness, surface area and mean curvature. We also assessed the volume and integrity of the white matter, using white matter signal intensity and fractional anisotropy (FA). We hypothesised that BMI would be linked to small-scale changes in Gaussian curvature and that this phenomenon would be mediated by changes in the integrity of the underlying white matter. METHODS: The association of global measures of T1-weighted cortical morphometry with BMI was examined using linear regression and mediation analyses in two independent groups of healthy young to middle aged human subjects (n1 = 52, n2 = 202). In a third dataset of (n3 = 897), which included diffusion tensor images, we sought to replicate the significant associations established in the first two datasets, and examine the potential mechanistic link between BMI-associated cortical changes and global FA. RESULTS: Gaussian curvature of the white matter surface showed a significant, positive association with BMI across all three independent datasets. This effect was mediated by a negative association between the integrity of the white matter and BMI. CONCLUSIONS: Increasing BMI is associated with changes in white matter microstructure in young to middle-aged healthy adults. Our results are consistent with a model whereby BMI-linked cortical changes are mediated by the effects of BMI on white matter microstructure.