White matter changes and word finding failures with increasing age.


BACKGROUND: Increasing life expectancy necessitates the better understanding of the neurophysiological underpinnings of age-related cognitive changes. The majority of research examining structural-cognitive relationships in aging focuses on the role of age-related changes to grey matter integrity. In the current study, we examined the relationship between age-related changes in white matter and language production. More specifically, we concentrated on word-finding failures, which increase with age. METHODOLOGY/PRINCIPAL FINDINGS: We used Diffusion tensor MRI (a technique used to image, in vivo, the diffusion of water molecules in brain tissue) to relate white matter integrity to measures of successful and unsuccessful picture naming. Diffusion tensor images were used to calculate Fractional Anisotropy (FA) images. FA is considered to be a measure of white matter organization/integrity. FA images were related to measures of successful picture naming and to word finding failures using voxel-based linear regression analyses. Successful naming rates correlated positively with white matter integrity across a broad range of regions implicated in language production. However, word finding failure rates correlated negatively with a more restricted region in the posterior aspect of superior longitudinal fasciculus. CONCLUSIONS/SIGNIFICANCE: The use of DTI-MRI provides evidence for the relationship between age-related white matter changes in specific language regions and word finding failures in old age.