The Optical Effective Attenuation Coefficient as an Informative Measure of Brain Health in Aging

Antonio M. Chiarelli, Kathy A. Low, Edward L. Maclin, Mark A. Fletcher, Tania S. Kong, Benjamin Zimmerman, Chin Hong Tan, Bradley P. Sutton, Monica Fabiani, Gabriele Gratton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Aging is accompanied by widespread changes in brain tissue. Here, we hypothesized that head tissue opacity to near-infrared light provides information about the health status of the brain’s cortical mantle. In diffusive media such as the head, opacity is quantified through the Effective Attenuation Coefficient (EAC), which is proportional to the geometric mean of the absorption and reduced scattering coefficients. EAC is estimated by the slope of the relationship between source–detector distance and the logarithm of the amount of light reaching the detector (optical density). We obtained EAC maps across the head in 47 adults (age range 18–75 years), using a high-density dual-wavelength optical system. We correlated regional and global EAC measures with demographic, neuropsychological, structural and functional brain data. Results indicated that EAC values averaged across wavelengths were strongly associated with age-related changes in cortical thickness, as well as functional and neuropsychological measures. This is likely because the EAC largely depends on the thickness of the sub-arachnoid cerebrospinal fluid layer, which increases with cortical atrophy. In addition, differences in EAC values between wavelengths were correlated with tissue oxygenation and cardiorespiratory fitness, indicating that information about cortical health can be derived non-invasively by quantifying the EAC.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number79
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jul 12 2019


  • Aging
  • Cortical thinning
  • Diffuse optical imaging (DOI)
  • Effective attenuation coefficient (EAC)
  • FreeSurfer

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atomic and Molecular Physics, and Optics
  • Instrumentation
  • Radiology Nuclear Medicine and imaging


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