As people age, one of the most common complaints is difficulty with word retrieval. A wealth of behavioral research confirms such age-related language production deficits, yet the structural neural differences that relate to age-related language production deficits remains an open area of exploration. Therefore, the present study used a large sample of healthy adults across adulthood to investigate how age-related white matter differences in three key left-hemisphere language tracts may contribute to age-related differences in language ability. Specifically, we used diffusion tensor imaging to measure fractional anisotropy (FA) and radial diffusivity (RD) which are indicators of white matter structure. We then used a series of path models to test whether white matter from the superior longitudinal fasciculus (SLF), the inferior longitudinal fasciculus, and the frontal aslant tract (FAT) mediated age-related differences in one form of language production, picture naming. We found that FA, as well as RD from the SLF and FAT mediated the relation between age and picture naming performance, whereas a control tract (corticospinal) was not a mediator. Moreover, differences between mediation of picture naming and a control naming condition suggest that left SLF has a greater role in higher-order aspects of naming, such as semantic and lexical selection whereas left FAT is more sensitive to sensorimotor aspects of fluency or speech motor planning. These results suggest that dorsal white matter contributes to age-related differences in generating speech and may be particularly important in supporting word retrieval across adulthood.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Linguistics and Language