October 31, 2020

Birth weight is associated with brain tissue volumes seven decades later, but not with age-associated changes to brain structure

Birth weight, an indicator of fetal growth, is associated with cognitive outcomes in early life and risk of metabolic and cardiovascular disease across the life course. Cognitive ability in early life is predictive of cognitive ability in later life. Brain health in older age, defined by MRI features, is associated with cognitive performance. However, little is known about how variation in normal birth weight impacts on brain structure in later life. In a community dwelling cohort of participants in their early seventies we tested the hypothesis that birthweight is associated with the following MRI features: total brain (TB), grey matter (GM) and normal appearing white matter (NAWM) volumes; whiter matter hyperintensity (WMH) volume; a general factor of fractional anisotropy (gFA) and peak width skeletonised mean diffusivity (PSMD) across the white matter skeleton. We also investigated the associations of birthweight with cortical surface area, volume and thickness. Birthweight was positively associated with TB, GM and NAWM volumes in later life ({beta} [≥] 0.194), and with regional cortical surface area but not gFA, PSMD, WMH volume, or cortical volume or thickness. These positive relationships appear to be explained by larger intracranial volume rather than by age-related tissue atrophy, and are independent of body height and weight in adulthood. This suggests that larger birthweight is linked to increased brain tissue reserve in older life, rather than a resilience to age-related changes in brain structure, such as tissue atrophy or WMH volume.

 bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience

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