Changes of gray matter volumes of subcortical regions across the lifespan: a Human Connectome Project study

We assessed changes in gray matter volume (GMV) of nine subcortical regions (accumbens, amygdala, brainstem, caudate, cerebellar cortex, pallidum, putamen, thalamus, and ventral diencephalon) across the lifespan in a large sample of participants in the Human Connectome Project (n = 2,458, 5-90 yr old, 1,113 males and 1,345 females). 3T MRI data were acquired using a harmonized protocol and were processed in an identical way for all brains. GMVs of individual regions were adjusted for estimated total intracranial volume and regressed against age. We found highly statistically significant changes in GMV with age (P < 0.001) that were distinct among areas and mostly consistent between sexes, as follows. 1) The GMVs of accumbens, caudate, putamen, and cerebellum decreased with age in a linear fashion. The rate of decrease was steeper in males than in females for all regions. 2) The GMVs of the amygdala, pallidum, thalamus, ventral diencephalon, and brainstem changed with age in a quadratic fashion, i.e., increasing first and decreasing afterward. The estimated age at the peak (vertex) of the parabola was 51.8 yr for the brainstem and 28.0-37.9 yr for the other regions. The peak occurred earlier in males than in females, by an average of 8 yr, with the exception of the brainstem, where the age at the peak was very similar in both sexes. These results confirm previous findings and offer new insights into region-specific age-related changes in subcortical brain GMVs.