Lifespan trajectories of relative corpus callosum thickness: Regional differences and cognitive relevance
The cerebral hemispheres are specialized for different cognitive functions and receive divergent information from the sensory organs, so that the interaction between the hemispheres is a crucial aspect of perception and cognition.
At the same time, the major fiber tract responsible for this interaction, the corpus callosum, shows a structural development across the lifespan which is over-proportional. That is, compared to changes in overall forebrain volume, the corpus callosum shows an accentuated growth during childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood, as well as pronounced decline in older age. However, this over-proportionality of growth and decline along with potential consequences for cognition, have been largely overlooked in empirical research. In the present study we systematically address the proportionality of callosal development in a large mixed cross-sectional and longitudinal sample (1867 datasets from 1014 unique participants), covering the human lifespan (age range 4–93 years), and examine the cognitive consequences of the observed changes. Relative corpus callosum thickness was measured at 60 segments along the midsagittal surface, and lifespan trajectories were clustered to identify callosal subsections of comparable lifespan development. While confirming the expected inverted u-shaped lifespan trajectories, we also found substantial regional variation. Compared with anterior clusters, the most posterior sections exhibited an accentuated growth during development which extends well into the third decade of life, and a protracted decline in older age which is delayed by about 10 years (starting mid to late 50s). We further showed that the observed longitudinal changes in relative thickness of the mid splenium significantly mediates age-related changes in tests assessing verbal knowledge and non-verbal visual-spatial abilities across the lifespan. In summary, we demonstrate that analyzing the proportionality of callosal growth and decline offers valuable insight into lifespan development of structural connectivity between the hemispheres, and suggests consequences for the cognitive development of perception and cognition.