Impact of body mass index on neuronal fiber bundle lengths among healthy older adults


Increased body mass index (BMI) has been linked to various detrimental health outcomes, including cognitive dysfunction. Recent work investigating associations between obesity and the brain has revealed decreased white matter microstructural integrity in individuals with elevated BMI, independent of age or comorbid health conditions. However, the relationship between high BMI and white matter fiber bundle length (FBL), which represents a novel metric of microstructural brain integrity, remains unknown. The present study utilized quantitative tractography based on diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to investigate the relationship between BMI and FBL in 72 otherwise healthy older adults (24 males, 48 females). All participants were between 51 and 85 years of age (M = 63.26, SD = 8.76). Results revealed that elevated BMI was associated with shorter FBL in the temporal lobe, independent of age (p < .01). In addition, increased age was associated with shorter frontal, temporal, and whole brain FBL (all p values < .01). These findings indicate that, while increased age is an important factor associated with reduced FBL, high BMI is uniquely associated with reduced FBL in the temporal lobe. These data offer evidence for additive adverse effects of high BMI on the brain, especially in areas already vulnerable to aging processes and age-related neurodegenerative diseases. Further research is necessary to determine the physiological mechanisms associated with the shortening of FBL in individuals with high BMI.

In Brain Imaging and Behavior 2013