White matter disconnection is related to age-related phonological deficits

Sara B.W. Troutman, Michele T. Diaz

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Older adults have more language production difficulties than younger adults but display largely comparable language comprehension abilities. The Transmission Deficit Hypothesis suggests that production difficulties stem from an age-related increase in phonological signal transmission failures, while the semantic system, being more redundant than the phonological system, allows comprehension to be relatively preserved despite signal failures. Though the neural instantiation of the Transmission Deficit Hypothesis remains an open question, white matter represents one important factor to investigate. Metrics indicative of white matter connectivity across the brain, namely, Radial Diffusivity (RD) and Fractional Anisotropy (FA) have also been linked to age-related cognitive differences including naming difficulties. Using a Picture-Word Interference (PWI) task with 18 younger and 19 older healthy adults, we found that, across ages, better picture naming in the presence of phonological distractors was associated with lower RD across dorsal (r = −.35, p =.03), ventral (r = −.34, p =.04), and fronto-striatal (r = −.33, p =.04) tracts, and higher FA along dorsal tracts (r =.43, p =.008). The pattern of lower RD and higher FA, which is thought to reflect better white matter structure, points to the dorsal stream tracts as critical for performance on the PWI task. Moreover, the effects of RD and FA on performance were attenuated by the effect of age, reflecting the shared variance between age and white matter as it relates to language production ability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1555-1565
Number of pages11
JournalBrain Imaging and Behavior
Issue number5
StatePublished - Oct 1 2020

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging
  • Neurology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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