White matter microstructure correlates of inhibition and task-switching in adolescents

Kristen L Mackiewicz Seghete, Megan M Herting, Bonnie J Nagel
Brain Research 2013 August 21, 1527: 15-28
Although protracted prefrontal gray matter development is associated with concomitant executive function (EF) development in adolescents, few studies have explored the relationship between white matter and EF. This study examined the relationship between white matter microstructure and two aspects of EF, inhibition and task-switching, in a sample of 84 adolescents using diffusion tensor imaging (DTI). Tract-Based Spatial Statistics (TBSS) were used to examine fractional anisotropy (FA) and mean diffusivity (MD). Adolescents completed the Color-Word Interference task from the Delis-Kaplan Executive Function System, a clinical version of the Stroop task. Inhibition and task-switching performance were group normalized and measured using both reaction time and errors. Performance and the interaction of age and performance were regressed on FA and MD white matter skeletons, controlling for age and IQ, separately for inhibition and task-switching. Follow up analyses examined the relative contributions of axial and radial diffusivities. Greater FA in the anterior corona radiata (ACR) was associated with better inhibition, independent of age. Greater FA in the SCR and precentral gyrus white matter were associated with better task-switching, regardless of age, whereas an association between FA in the ACR and task-switching was dependent on age. There were no significant associations between MD and performance. Results suggest better inhibition and task-switching are associated with greater integrity of white matter microstructure in regions supporting cross-cortical and cortical-subcortical connections stemming from the prefrontal cortex. These findings are consistent with functional studies of cognitive control and models of EF that propose separate, yet related, latent factors.

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