Layer-specific vulnerability is a mechanism of topographic map aging.
Northall A., Doehler J., Weber M., Vielhaber S., Schreiber S., Kuehn E.
Topographic maps form a critical feature of cortical organization, yet are poorly described with respect to their microstructure in the living aging brain. We acquired quantitative structural and functional 7T-MRI data from younger and older adults to characterize layer-wise topographic maps of the primary motor cortex (M1). Using parcellation-inspired techniques, we show that quantitative T1 and Quantitative Susceptibility Maps values of the hand, face, and foot areas differ significantly, revealing microstructurally distinct cortical fields in M1. We show that these fields are distinct in older adults and that myelin borders between them do not degenerate. We further show that the output layer 5 of M1 shows a particular vulnerability to age-related increased iron, while layer 5 and the superficial layer show increased diamagnetic substance, likely reflecting calcifications. Taken together, we provide a novel 3D model of M1 microstructure, where body parts form distinct structural units, but layers show specific vulnerability toward increased iron and calcium in older adults. Our findings have implications for understanding sensorimotor organization and aging, in addition to topographic disease spread.