Effects of aging on the ventral and dorsal substantia nigra using diffusion tensor imaging

David E. Vaillancourt, Matthew B. Spraker, Janey Prodoehl, Xiaohong Joe Zhou, Deborah M. Little

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

39 Scopus citations


Dopaminergic neurons in the substantia nigra produce dopamine for the nigrostriatal pathway that facilitates motor function. Postmortem examinations demonstrate an age-related loss of cells in the substantia nigra, with most of the cell loss focused on the dorsal substantia nigra compared with the ventral substantia nigra. The current study used diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to provide the first in vivo assessment of age-related degeneration in specific segments of the substantia nigra of humans. Measures extracted from DTI of 16 young adults (19-27 years) and 15 older adults (55-71 years) showed that in the dorsal substantia nigra, fractional anisotropy was reduced and radial diffusivity was increased with age. In the ventral substantia nigra and red nucleus, there were no differences across age for the DTI measures. DTI provides a noninvasive technique that accurately reflects the established pattern of age-related cell loss in the dorsal and ventral substantia nigra, further suggesting the robust potential for using DTI to characterize degeneration in the nigrostriatal pathway in both health and disease.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)35-42
Number of pages8
JournalNeurobiology of Aging
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 2012


  • Aging
  • Biomarker
  • Diffusion tensor imaging
  • Fractional anisotropy
  • Human
  • Substantia nigra


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