Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a common retina disease associated with cognitive impairment in older adults. The mechanism(s) that account for the link between AMD and cognitive decline remain unclear. Here we aim to shed light on this issue by investigating whether relationships between cognition and white matter in the brain differ by AMD status. In a direct group comparison of brain connectometry maps from diffusion weighted images, AMD patients showed significantly weaker quantitative anisotropy (QA) than healthy controls, predominantly in the splenium and left optic radiation. The QA of these tracts, however, did not correlate with the visual acuity measure, indicating that this group effect is not directly driven by visual loss. The AMD and control groups did not differ significantly in cognitive performance. Across all participants, better cognitive performance (e.g. verbal fluency) is associated with stronger connectivity strength in white matter tracts including the splenium and the left inferior fronto-occipital fasciculus/inferior longitudinal fasciculus. However, there were significant interactions between group and cognitive performance (verbal fluency, memory), suggesting that the relation between QA and cognitive performance was weaker in AMD patients than in controls. This may be explained by unmeasured determinants of performance that are more common or impactful in AMD or by a recruitment bias whereby the AMD group had higher cognitive reserve. In general, our findings suggest that neural degeneration in the brain might occur in parallel to AMD in the eyes, although the participants studied here do not (yet) exhibit overt cognitive declines per standard assessments.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
- Clinical Neurology
- Cognitive Neuroscience