Brain Atrophy Estimated from Structural Magnetic Resonance Imaging as a Marker of Large-Scale Network-Based Neurodegeneration in Aging and Stroke.
Brain atrophy is a normal part of healthy aging, and stroke appears to have neurodegenerative effects, accelerating this atrophy to pathological levels. The distributed pattern of atrophy in healthy aging suggests that large-scale brain networks may be involved. At the same time, the network wide effects of stroke are beginning to be appreciated. There is now widespread use of network methods to understand the brain in terms of coordinated brain activity or white matter connectivity. Examining brain morphology on a network level presents a powerful method of understanding brain structure and has been successfully applied to charting the course of brain development. This review will introduce recent advances in structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) acquisition and analyses that have allowed for reliable and reproducible estimates of atrophy in large-scale brain networks in aging and after stroke. These methods are currently underutilized despite their ease of acquisition and potential to clarify the progression of brain atrophy as a normal part of healthy aging and in the context of stroke. Understanding brain atrophy at the network level may be key to clarifying healthy aging processes and the pathway to neurodegeneration after stroke.