Neuroscience is increasingly focusing on developmental factors related to human structural and functional connectivity. Unfortunately, to date, diffusion-based imaging approaches have only contributed modestly to these broad objectives, despite the promise of diffusion-based tractography. Here, we report a novel data-driven approach to detect similarities and differences among white matter tracts with respect to their developmental trajectories, using 64-direction diffusion tensor imaging. Specifically, using a cross-sectional sample comprising 144 healthy individuals (7 to 48 years old), we applied k-means cluster analysis to separate white matter voxels based on their age-related trajectories of fractional anisotropy. Optimal solutions included 5-, 9- and 14-clusters. Our results recapitulate well-established tracts (e.g., internal and external capsule, optic radiations, corpus callosum, cingulum bundle, cerebral peduncles) and subdivisions within tracts (e.g., corpus callosum, internal capsule). For all but one tract identified, age-related trajectories were curvilinear (i.e., inverted 'U-shape'), with age-related increases during childhood and adolescence followed by decreases in middle adulthood. Identification of peaks in the trajectories suggests that age-related losses in fractional anisotropy occur as early as 23 years of age, with mean onset at 30 years of age. Our findings demonstrate that data-driven analytic techniques may be fruitfully applied to extant diffusion tensor imaging datasets in normative and neuropsychiatric samples.
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