Brain structure and cognitive correlates of body mass index in healthy older adults


Obesity, commonly measured with body mass index (BMI), is associated with numerous deleterious health conditions including alterations in brain integrity related to advanced age. Prior research has suggested that white matter integrity observed using diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) is altered in relation to high BMI, but the integrity of specific white matter tracts remains poorly understood. Additionally, no studies have examined white matter tract integrity in conjunction with neuropsychological evaluation associated with BMI among older adults. The present study examined white matter tract integrity using DTI and cognitive performance associated with BMI in 62 healthy older adults (20 males, 42 females) aged 51 to 81. Results revealed that elevated BMI was associated with lower fractional anisotropy (FA) in the uncinate fasciculus, though there was no evidence of an age by BMI interaction relating to FA in this tract. No relationships were observed between BMI and other white matter tracts or cognition after controlling for demographic variables. Findings suggest that elevated BMI is associated with lower structural integrity in a brain region connecting frontal and temporal lobes and this alteration precedes cognitive dysfunction. Future studies should examine biological mechanisms that mediate the relationships between BMI and white matter tract integrity, as well as the evolution of these abnormalities utilizing longitudinal designs.

In Behavioral Brain Research 2015