A new study by UF neuroscientists suggests that white matter “free water,” or fluid unconstrained by brain tissue, could play an important role in the cognitive aging process and serve as a more specific indicator of early cognitive decline than traditional diffusion MRI measures.
The study, published online in the journal Neuroimage, examines the relationship between free water and neurocognitive function in a sample of 47 typically aging older adults. Neurocognitive function was measured using the NIH Toolbox Cognitive Battery, which looks at factors such as processing speed, executive function and working memory. The study found that higher levels of free water along the core pathway of several important white matter tracts was associated with poorer performance on neurocognitive functions specific to those pathways.
The investigators believe that this finding could help pave the way toward a modifiable target for intervention.
The study was led by Joseph Gullett, Ph.D., a research assistant professor of clinical and health psychology in the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions and Adam J. Woods, Ph.D., associate professor of clinical and health psychology and associate director of UF’s Center for Cognitive Aging and Memory.