Although age-related differences in white matter have been well documented, the degree to which regional, tract-specific effects can be distinguished from global, brain-general effects is not yet clear. Similarly, the manner in which global and regional differences in white matter integrity contribute to age-related differences in cognition has not been well established. To address these issues, we analyzed diffusion tensor imaging measures from 52 younger adults (18–28) and 64 older adults (60–85). We conducted principal component analysis on each diffusion measure, using data from eight individual tracts. Two components were observed for fractional anisotropy: the first comprised high loadings from the superior longitudinal fasciculi and corticospinal tracts, and the second comprised high loadings from the optic radiations. In contrast, variation in axial, radial, and mean diffusivities yielded a single-component solution in each case, with high loadings from most or all tracts. For fractional anisotropy, the complementary results of multiple components and variability in component loadings across tracts suggest regional variation. However, for the diffusivity indices, the single component with high loadings from most or all of the tracts suggests primarily global, brain-general variation. Further analyses indicated that age was a significant mediator of the relation between each component and perceptual-motor speed. These data suggest that individual differences in white matter integrity and their relation to age-related differences in perceptual-motor speed represent influences that are beyond the level of individual tracts, but the extent to which regional or global effects predominate may differ between anisotropy and diffusivity measures.
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