Cortical complexity as a measure of age-related brain atrophy

Christopher R Madan, Elizabeth A Kensinger


The structure of the human brain changes in a variety of ways as we age. While a sizeable literature has examined age-related differences in cortical thickness, and to a lesser degree, gyrification, here we examined differences in cortical complexity, as indexed by fractal dimensionality in a sample of over 400 individuals across the adult lifespan. While prior studies have shown differences in fractal dimensionality between patient populations and age-matched, healthy controls, it is unclear how well this measure would relate to age-related cortical atrophy. Initially computing a single measure for the entire cortical ribbon, i.e., unparcellated gray matter, we found fractal dimensionality to be more sensitive to age-related differences than either cortical thickness or gyrification index. We additionally observed regional differences in age-related atrophy between the three measures, suggesting that they may index distinct differences in cortical structure. We also provide a freely available MATLAB toolbox for calculating fractal dimensionality.


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