A causal link between decreases in white matter (WM) integrity and cortical degeneration is assumed, but there is scarce knowledge on the relationship between these changes across the adult human lifespan. We investigated changes in thickness throughout the cortical mantle and WM tract integrity derived from T1 and diffusion weighted magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans in 201 healthy adults aged 23–87 years over a mean interval of 3.6 years. Fractional anisotropy (FA), mean (MD), radial (RD) and axial (AD) diffusivity changes were calculated for forceps minor and major and eight major white matter tracts in each hemisphere by use of a novel automated longitudinal tractography constrained by underlying anatomy (TRACULA) approach. We hypothesized that increasing MD and decreasing FA across tracts would relate to cortical thinning, with some anatomical specificity. WM integrity decreased across tracts non-uniformly, with mean annual percentage decreases ranging from 0.20 in the Inferior Longitudinal Fasciculus to 0.65 in the Superior Longitudinal Fasciculus. For most tracts, greater MD increases and FA decreases related to more cortical thinning, in areas in part overlapping with but also outside the projected tract endings. The findings indicate a combination of global and tract-specific relationships between WM integrity and cortical thinning.
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