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Anomalous White Matter Structure and the Effect of Age in Down Syndrome Patients.

BACKGROUND: Neural tissue alterations in Down syndrome are fully expressed at relatively late developmental stages. In addition, there is an early presence of neurodegenerative changes in the late life stages.

OBJECTIVE: The aims of this study were both to characterize white matter abnormalities in the brain of adult Down syndrome patients using diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) and to investigate whether degenerative alterations in white matter structure are detectable before dementia is clinically evident.

METHODS: Forty-five adult non-demented Down syndrome patients showing a wide age range (18-52 years) and a matched 45-subject control group were assessed. DTI fractional anisotropy (FA) brain maps were generated and selected cognitive tests were administered.

RESULTS: Compared with healthy controls, non-demented Down syndrome patients showed lower DTI FA in white matter involving the major pathways, but with more severe alterations in the frontal-subcortical circuits. White matter FA decreased with age at a similar rate in both DS and control groups.

CONCLUSIONS: Our results contribute to characterizing the expression of white matter structural alterations in adult Down syndrome. However, an accelerated aging effect was not demonstrated, which may suggest that the FA measurements used are not sufficiently sensitive or, alternatively, age-related white matter neurodegeneration is not obvious prior to overt clinical dementia.

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