Although aging is associated with alterations of both activity/rest cycle and brain structure, few studies have evaluated associations between these processes. The aim of this study was to examine relationship between activity/rest cycle quality and brain structural integrity in aging subjects by exploring both grey and white matter compartments.
Material and methods
Fifty-eight elderly subjects (76±0.5 years; 41% female) without dementia, sleep disorders and medications were included in the analysis. Actigraphy was used to measure parameters of activity/rest cycle (24-h amplitude, 24-h fragmentation and 24-h stability) and sleep (total sleep time and sleep fragmentation) over a minimal period of 5 days. Whole brain linear regression analyses were performed on grey matter volumes maps using voxel based morphometry and on white matter integrity using tract based statistics analyses.
A lower 24-h amplitude and a higher sleep fragmentation were independently associated with a reduction of white matter integrity in models including age and gender as covariates. The association between 24-h amplitude and white matter integrity decreased but remained significant in a model accounted for sleep fragmentation, indicating a specific effect of 24-h cycle disturbances. No association with grey matter volumes was observed.
In elderly, not only sleep but also 24-h cycle disturbances were associated with altered structural connectivity. This alteration of structural backbone networks related to activity/rest cycle disturbances in aging might constitute a cerebral frailty factor for the development of cognitive impairment.