Individual variations in “Brain age” relate to early life factors more than to longitudinal brain change
Vidal-Piñeiro D., Wang Y., Krogsrud SK., Amlien IK., Baaré WFC., Bartrés-Faz D., Bertram L., Brandmaier AM., Drevon CA., Düzel S., Ebmeier KP., Henson RN., Junque C., Kievit RA., Kühn S., Leonardsen E., Lindenberger U., Madsen KS., Magnussen F., Mowinckel AM., Nyberg L., Roe JM., Segura B., Smith SM., Sørensen Ø., Suri S., Westerhausen R., Zalesky A., Zsoldos E., Walhovd KB., Fjell AM., the Australian Imaging Biomarkers and Lifestyle flagship study of ageing None.
Brain age is a widely used index for quantifying individuals’ brain health as deviation from a normative brain aging trajectory. Higher than expected brain age is thought partially to reflect above-average rate of brain aging. We explicitly tested this assumption in two large datasets and found no association between cross-sectional brain age and steeper brain decline measured longitudinally. Rather, brain age in adulthood was associated with early-life influences indexed by birth weight and polygenic scores. The results call for nuanced interpretations of cross-sectional indices of the aging brain and question their validity as markers of ongoing within-person changes of the aging brain. Longitudinal imaging data should be preferred whenever the goal is to understand individual change trajectories of brain and cognition in aging.