Auditory and visual system white matter is differentially impacted by normative aging in macaques

Daniel T. Gray, Nicole M. de la Peña, Lavanya Umapathy, Sara N. Burke, James R. Engle, Theodore P. Trouard, Carol A. Barnes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Deficits in auditory and visual processing are commonly encountered by older individuals. In addition to the relatively well described age-associated pathologies that reduce sensory processing at the level of the cochlea and eye, multiple changes occur along the ascending auditory and visual pathways that further reduce sensory function in each domain. One fundamental question that remains to be directly addressed is whether the structure and function of the central auditory and visual systems follow similar trajectories across the lifespan or sustain the impacts of brain aging independently. The present study used diffusion magnetic resonance imaging and electrophysiological assessments of auditory and visual system function in adult and aged macaques to better understand how age-related changes in white matter connectivity at multiple levels of each sensory system might impact auditory and visual function. In particular, the fractional anisotropy (FA) of auditory and visual system thalamocortical and interhemispheric corticocortical connections was estimated using probabilistic tractography analyses. Sensory processing and sensory system FA were both reduced in older animals compared with younger adults. Corticocortical FA was significantly reduced only in white matter of the auditory system of aged monkeys, while thalamocortical FA was lower only in visual system white matter of the same animals. Importantly, these structural alterations were significantly associated with sensory function within each domain. Together, these results indicate that age-associated deficits in auditory and visual processing emerge in part from microstructural alterations to specific sensory white matter tracts, and not from general differences in white matter condition across the aging brain.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8913-8923
Number of pages11
JournalJournal of Neuroscience
Issue number46
StatePublished - Nov 11 2020


  • Auditory brainstem response
  • Diffusion MRI
  • Sensory deficits
  • Splenium
  • Thalamic radiation
  • Visual evoked potential

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience


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