The brain’s white matter microstructure, as assessed using diffusion-weighted MRI (DWI), changes significantly with age and also exhibits significant sex differences. Here we examined the ability of a traditional diffusivity metric (fractional anisotropy derived from diffusion tensor imaging, DTI-FA) and advanced diffusivity metrics (fractional anisotropy derived from the tensor distribution function, TDF-FA; neurite orientation dispersion and density imaging measures of intra-cellular volume fraction, NODDI-ICVF; orientation dispersion index, NODDI-ODI; and isotropic volume fraction, NODDI-ISOVF) to detect sex differences in white matter aging. We also created normative aging reference curves based on sex. Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) applies a single-tensor diffusion model to single-shell DWI data, while the tensor distribution function (TDF) fits a continuous distribution of tensors to single-shell DWI data. Neurite orientation dispersion and density imaging (NODDI) fits a multi-compartment model to multi-shell DWI data to distinguish intra- and extra-cellular contributions to diffusion. We analyzed these traditional and advanced diffusion measures in a large population sample available through the UK Biobank (15,394 participants; age-range: 45-80 years) by using linear regression and fractional polynomials. Advanced diffusivity metrics (NODDI-ODI, NODDI-ISOVF, TDF-FA) detected significant sex differences in aging, whereas a traditional metric (DTI-FA) did not. These findings suggest that future studies examining sex differences in white matter aging may benefit from including advanced diffusion measures.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience