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Diffusion Tensor Imaging Correlates of Cognitive-Motor Decline in Normal Aging and Increased Alzheimer's Disease Risk


Alzheimer's disease (AD) is typically associated with impairments in memory and other aspects of cognition, while deficits in complex movements are commonly observed later in the course of the disease. Recent studies, however, have indicated that subtle deteriorations in visuomotor control under cognitively demanding conditions may in fact be an early identifying feature of AD. Our previous work has shown that the ability to perform visuomotor tasks that rely on visual-spatial and rule-based transformations is disrupted in prodromal and preclinical AD. Here, in a sample of 30 female participants (10 young: mean age = 26.6 ± 2.7, 10 low AD risk: mean age = 58.7 ± 5.6, and 10 high AD risk: mean age = 58.5 ± 6.9), we test the hypothesis that these cognitive-motor impairments are associated with early AD-related brain alterations. Using diffusion-weighted magnetic resonance imaging, we examined changes in white matter (WM) integrity associated with normal aging and increased AD risk, and assessed the relationship between these underlying WM alterations and cognitive-motor performance. Our whole-brain analysis revealed significant age-related declines in WM integrity, which were more widespread in high relative to low AD risk participants. Furthermore, analysis of mean diffusivity measures within isolated WM clusters revealed a stepwise decline in WM integrity across young, low AD risk, and high AD risk groups. In support of our hypothesis, we also observed that lower WM integrity was associated with poorer cognitive-motor performance. These results are the first to demonstrate a relationship between AD-related WM alterations and impaired cognitive-motor control. The application of these findings may provide a novel clinical strategy for the early detection of individuals at increased AD risk.