Cortical thickness and its associations with age, total cognition and education across the adult lifespan

Habeck, Christian G.; Gazes, Yunglin; Razlighi, Qolamreza R.; Stern, Yaakov

Early-life education (years of schooling) has been investigated in regards to cognition, health outcomes and mortality. It has been shown to confer cognitive reserve that might lessen the impact of brain pathology and its impact on cognitive and motor functioning in a variety of neurodegenerative diseases and, for instance, to influence electrical activity [Begum, T., Reza, F., Ahmed, I., & Abdullah, J. M. (2014). Influence of education level on design-induced N170 and P300 components of event related potentials in the human brain. J Integr Neurosci, 13(1), 71–88. doi:10.1142/S0219635214500058]. On the other hand, demonstrations of a direct association between education and brain-structural measures have been more equivocal and scant. The current study sought to identify univariate cortical-thickness patterns underlying education and general intelligence after adjusting for age, gender and possible in-scanner movement in 353 individuals aged 40 to 80. We followed up this idea with multivariate analyses as well. For univariate analyses, our analyses yielded no robust associations between education and general intelligence beyond confounding effects of gender, age and extraneous in-scanner movement. A subsequent multivariate analyses showed a relationship between education and regional cortical thickness with a robust pattern of negative as well as positive loadings in several right-sided brain areas, speaking to a subtle but robust distributed effect of education on cortical thickness. Cortical thickness variance that is the residual of this education-related pattern was shown to be positively associated with age and extraneous in-scanner movement. Our study thus presents a complex picture of the association of education with regional cortical thickness: education was associated with a distributed brain-wide pattern of positive as well as negative loadings with unaccounted residuals being larger for older participants. Focal regional associations beyond demographic and age covariates were not identified.


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May 4, 2021