Background: Recent findings on retrieval of proper names in cognitively healthy middle-aged persons indicate that tip-of-the-tongue (TOT) states occurring during proper name retrieval implicate inferior frontal (BA 44) and parietal (BA 40) cortical areas. Such findings give rise to the possibility that anatomical connectivity via dorsal white matter may be associated with difficulties in name retrieval in midlife.
Objective & Method: Using Diffusion Tensor Imaging, we examined in vivo microstructural properties of white matter in 72 cognitively healthy middle-aged (MA) and 59 young adults (YA), comparing their naming abilities as well as testing for possible associations between dorsal white matter integrity and naming abilities in the MA group.
Results: The MA group was better in retrieving correct names (U = 1525.5, p = .006), but they also retrieved more incorrect names than YA believing they had retrieved the correct ones (U = 1265.5, p < .001). Furthermore, despite being more familiar with the tested names than YA (U = 930, p < .001), MA experienced significantly more TOTs relative to YA (U = 1498.5, p = .004). Tract-based spatial statistics showed significant group differences in values of fractional anisotropy (FA), mean diffusivity, axial diffusivity, radial diffusivity, and mode of anisotropy in a range of white matter tracts. In the MA group, FA values in the right superior longitudinal fasciculus (SLF) were positively correlated with “don’t know” scores (rs = .287, p = .014).
Conclusion: The association of SLF integrity and name retrieval ability in midlife indicates a need to revisit the models of name retrieval that posit no role for dorsal white matter in proper name retrieval.