Lifelong bilingualism maintains white matter integrity in older adults.


Luk, G., Bialystok, E., Craik, F. I. M., & Grady, C. L. (2011). Lifelong bilingualism maintains white matter integrity in older adults. Journal of Neuroscience , 31, 16808-16813. Copy at


Previous research has shown that bilingual speakers have higher levels of cognitive control than comparable monolinguals, especially at older ages. The present study investigates a possible neural correlate of this behavioral effect. Given that white matter (WM) integrity decreases with age in adulthood, we tested the hypothesis that bilingualism is associated with maintenance of WM in older people. Using diffusion tensor imaging, we found higher WM integrity in older people who were lifelong bilinguals than in monolinguals. This maintained integrity was measured by fractional anisotropy (FA) and was found in the corpus callosum extending to the superior and inferior longitudinal fasciculi. We also hypothesized that stronger WM connections would be associated with more widely distributed patterns of functional connectivity in bilinguals. We tested this by assessing the resting-state functional connectivity of frontal lobe regions adjacent to WM areas with group differences in FA. Bilinguals showed stronger anterior to posterior functional connectivity compared to monolinguals. These results are the first evidence that maintained WM integrity is related to lifelong naturally occurring experience; the resulting enhanced structural and functional connectivity may provide a neural basis for “brain reserve.”