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1.  The Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor Val66Met Polymorphism Moderates an Effect of Physical Activity on Working Memory Performance 
Psychological science  2013;24(9):1770-1779.
Physical activity enhances cognitive performance, yet individual variability in its effectiveness limits its widespread therapeutic application. Genetic differences might be one source of this variation. For example, carriers of the methionine-specifying (Met) allele of the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) Val66Met polymorphism have reduced secretion of BDNF and poorer memory, yet physical activity increases BDNF levels. To determine whether the BDNF polymorphism moderated an association of physical activity with cognitive functioning among 1,032 midlife volunteers (mean age = 44.59 years), we evaluated participants’ performance on a battery of tests assessing memory, learning, and executive processes, and evaluated their physical activity with the Paffenbarger Physical Activity Questionnaire. BDNF genotype interacted robustly with physical activity to affect working memory, but not other areas of cognitive functioning. In particular, greater levels of physical activity offset a deleterious effect of the Met allele on working memory performance. These findings suggest that physical activity can modulate domain-specific genetic (BDNF) effects on cognition.
PMCID: PMC3947596  PMID: 23907543
BDNF; physical activity; working memory; executive function; genetics; visual memory; episodic memory
2.  Physical Activity, Brain Plasticity, and Alzheimer’s Disease 
Archives of medical research  2012;43(8):615-621.
In this review we summarize the epidemiological, cross-sectional, and interventional studies examining the association between physical activity and brain volume, function, and risk for Alzheimer’s disease. The epidemiological literature provides compelling evidence that greater amounts of physical activity are associated with a reduced risk of dementia in late life. In addition, randomized interventions using neuroimaging tools have reported that participation in physical activity increases the size of prefrontal and hippocampal brain areas, which may lead to a reduction in memory impairments. Consistent with these findings, longitudinal studies using neuroimaging tools also find that the volume of prefrontal and hippocampal brain areas are larger in individuals who engaged in more physical activity earlier in life. We conclude from this review that there is convincing evidence that physical activity has a consistent and robust association with brain regions implicated in age-related cognitive decline and Alzheimer’s disease. In addition to summarizing this literature we provide recommendations for future research on physical activity and brain health.
PMCID: PMC3567914  PMID: 23085449
3.  Physical Exercise and Brain Functions in Older Adults 
Journal of Aging Research  2013;2013:197326.
PMCID: PMC3791662  PMID: 24163767
4.  The Aging Hippocampus: Interactions between Exercise, Depression, and BDNF 
Late adulthood is associated with increased hippocampal atrophy and dysfunction. Although there are multiple paths by which hippocampal deterioration occurs in late life, the authors discuss the evidence that a single nucleotide polymorphism in the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) gene and age-related changes in BDNF protein or receptor expression contribute to hippocampal atrophy. The authors conclude that few studies have tested whether BDNF mediates age-related hippocampal atrophy and memory impairment. However, there is strong evidence that decreased BDNF is associated with age-related hippocampal dysfunction, memory impairment, and increased risk for depression, whereas increasing BDNF by aerobic exercise appears to ameliorate hippocampal atrophy, improve memory function, and reduce depression. Importantly, the most consistent associations between BDNF and hippocampal dysfunction have emerged from research on BDNF protein expression in rodents and serum and plasma concentrations of BDNF in humans. Current research suggests that the BDNF val66met polymorphism may be only weakly associated with hippocampal atrophy in late adulthood. These conclusions are interpreted in relation to age-related memory impairment and preventions for hippocampal atrophy.
PMCID: PMC3575139  PMID: 21531985
aging; BDNF; depression; exercise; hippocampus
5.  Caudate Nucleus Volume Mediates the Link between Cardiorespiratory Fitness and Cognitive Flexibility in Older Adults 
Journal of Aging Research  2012;2012:939285.
The basal ganglia play a central role in regulating the response selection abilities that are critical for mental flexibility. In neocortical areas, higher cardiorespiratory fitness levels are associated with increased gray matter volume, and these volumetric differences mediate enhanced cognitive performance in a variety of tasks. Here we examine whether cardiorespiratory fitness correlates with the volume of the subcortical nuclei that make up the basal ganglia and whether this relationship predicts cognitive flexibility in older adults. Structural MRI was used to determine the volume of the basal ganglia nuclei in a group of older, neurologically healthy individuals (mean age 66 years, N = 179). Measures of cardiorespiratory fitness (VO2max), cognitive flexibility (task switching), and attentional control (flanker task) were also collected. Higher fitness levels were correlated with higher accuracy rates in the Task Switching paradigm. In addition, the volume of the caudate nucleus, putamen, and globus pallidus positively correlated with Task Switching accuracy. Nested regression modeling revealed that caudate nucleus volume was a significant mediator of the relationship between cardiorespiratory fitness, and task switching performance. These findings indicate that higher cardiorespiratory fitness predicts better cognitive flexibility in older adults through greater grey matter volume in the dorsal striatum.
PMCID: PMC3415086  PMID: 22900181
6.  Beyond vascularization: aerobic fitness is associated with N-acetylaspartate and working memory 
Brain and Behavior  2012;2(1):32-41.
Aerobic exercise is a promising form of prevention for cognitive decline; however, little is known about the molecular mechanisms by which exercise and fitness impacts the human brain. Several studies have postulated that increased regional brain volume and function are associated with aerobic fitness because of increased vascularization rather than increased neural tissue per se. We tested this position by examining the relationship between cardiorespiratory fitness and N-acetylaspartate (NAA) levels in the right frontal cortex using magnetic resonance spectroscopy. NAA is a nervous system specific metabolite found predominantly in cell bodies of neurons. We reasoned that if aerobic fitness was predominantly influencing the vasculature of the brain, then NAA levels should not vary as a function of aerobic fitness. However, if aerobic fitness influences the number or viability of neurons, then higher aerobic fitness levels might be associated with greater concentrations of NAA. We examined NAA levels, aerobic fitness, and cognitive performance in 137 older adults without cognitive impairment. Consistent with the latter hypothesis, we found that higher aerobic fitness levels offset an age-related decline in NAA. Furthermore, NAA mediated an association between fitness and backward digit span performance, suggesting that neuronal viability as measured by NAA is important in understanding fitness-related cognitive enhancement. Since NAA is found exclusively in neural tissue, our results indicate that the effect of fitness on the human brain extends beyond vascularization; aerobic fitness is associated with neuronal viability in the frontal cortex of older adults.
PMCID: PMC3343297  PMID: 22574272
Aging; brain; exercise; fitness; human; N-acetylaspartate; working memory
7.  Striatal Volume Predicts Level of Video Game Skill Acquisition 
Cerebral Cortex (New York, NY)  2010;20(11):2522-2530.
Video game skills transfer to other tasks, but individual differences in performance and in learning and transfer rates make it difficult to identify the source of transfer benefits. We asked whether variability in initial acquisition and of improvement in performance on a demanding video game, the Space Fortress game, could be predicted by variations in the pretraining volume of either of 2 key brain regions implicated in learning and memory: the striatum, implicated in procedural learning and cognitive flexibility, and the hippocampus, implicated in declarative memory. We found that hippocampal volumes did not predict learning improvement but that striatal volumes did. Moreover, for the striatum, the volumes of the dorsal striatum predicted improvement in performance but the volumes of the ventral striatum did not. Both ventral and dorsal striatal volumes predicted early acquisition rates. Furthermore, this early-stage correlation between striatal volumes and learning held regardless of the cognitive flexibility demands of the game versions, whereas the predictive power of the dorsal striatal volumes held selectively for performance improvements in a game version emphasizing cognitive flexibility. These findings suggest a neuroanatomical basis for the superiority of training strategies that promote cognitive flexibility and transfer to untrained tasks.
PMCID: PMC3841463  PMID: 20089946
basal ganglia; caudate nucleus; cognitive flexibility; nucleus accumbens; procedural learning
8.  Aerobic Fitness is Associated With Hippocampal Volume in Elderly Humans 
Hippocampus  2009;19(10):1030-1039.
Deterioration of the hippocampus occurs in elderly individuals with and without dementia, yet individual variation exists in the degree and rate of hippocampal decay. Determining the factors that influence individual variation in the magnitude and rate of hippocampal decay may help promote lifestyle changes that prevent such deterioration from taking place. Aerobic fitness and exercise are effective at preventing cortical decay and cognitive impairment in older adults and epidemiological studies suggest that physical activity can reduce the risk for developing dementia. However, the relationship between aerobic fitness and hippocampal volume in elderly humans is unknown. In this study, we investigated whether individuals with higher levels of aerobic fitness displayed greater volume of the hippocampus and better spatial memory performance than individuals with lower fitness levels. Furthermore, in exploratory analyses, we assessed whether hippocampal volume mediated the relationship between fitness and spatial memory. Using a region-of-interest analysis on magnetic resonance images in 165 nondemented older adults, we found a triple association such that higher fitness levels were associated with larger left and right hippocampi after controlling for age, sex, and years of education, and larger hippocampi and higher fitness levels were correlated with better spatial memory performance. Furthermore, we demonstrated that hippocampal volume partially mediated the relationship between higher fitness levels and enhanced spatial memory. Our results clearly indicate that higher levels of aerobic fitness are associated with increased hippocampal volume in older humans, which translates to better memory function.
PMCID: PMC3072565  PMID: 19123237
aging; MRI; spatial memory; cognition; brain
9.  BDNF is Associated With Age-Related Decline in Hippocampal Volume 
Hippocampal volume shrinks in late adulthood, but the neuromolecular factors that trigger hippocampal decay in aging humans remains a matter of speculation. In rodents, brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) promotes the growth and proliferation of cells in the hippocampus and is important in long-term potentiation and memory formation. In humans, circulating levels of BDNF decline with advancing age and a genetic polymorphism for BDNF has been related to gray matter volume loss in old age. In this study, we tested whether age-related reductions in serum levels of BDNF would be related to shrinkage of the hippocampus and memory deficits in older adults. Hippocampal volume was acquired by automated segmentation of magnetic resonance images in 142 older adults without dementia. The caudate nucleus was also segmented and examined in relation to levels of serum BDNF. Spatial memory was tested using a paradigm in which memory load was parametrically increased. We found that increasing age was associated with smaller hippocampal volumes, reduced levels of serum BDNF, and poorer memory performance. Lower levels of BDNF were associated with smaller hippocampi and poorer memory, even when controlling for the variation related to age. In an exploratory mediation analysis, hippocampal volume mediated the age-related decline in spatial memory and BDNF mediated the age-related decline in hippocampal volume. Caudate nucleus volume was unrelated to BDNF levels or spatial memory performance. Our results identify serum BDNF as a significant factor related to hippocampal shrinkage and memory decline in late adulthood.
PMCID: PMC3069644  PMID: 20392958
brain-derived neurotrophic factor; hippocampus; human; brain; caudate nucleus; aging
10.  A cross-sectional study of hormone treatment and hippocampal volume in postmenopausal women: Evidence for a limited window of opportunity 
Neuropsychology  2010;24(1):68-76.
The influence of hormone treatment on brain and cognition in postmenopausal women has been a controversial topic. Contradictory patterns of results have prompted speculation that a critical period, or a limited window of opportunity, exists for hormone treatment to protect against cognitive and neural decline in older women. Consistent with this hypothesis, studies in both humans and rodents indicate that the latency between the time of menopause and the initiation of hormone treatment is an important factor in determining whether hormone treatment will prevent or exacerbate cognitive impairment. In this cross-sectional study of 102 postmenopausal women, we examined whether hippocampal, amygdala, or caudate nucleus volumes and spatial memory performance were related to the interval between menopause and the initiation of hormone treatment. Consistent with a critical period hypothesis, we found that shorter intervals between menopause and the initiation of hormone treatment, as determined by self-report, were associated with larger hippocampal volumes compared with longer intervals between menopause and treatment initiation. Initiation of hormone treatment at the time of menopause was also associated with larger hippocampal volumes when compared to peers who had never used hormone treatment. Furthermore, these effects were independent from potentially confounding factors such as age, years of education, the duration of hormone treatment, current or past use of hormone therapy, the type of therapy, and the age at menopause. Larger hippocampal volumes in women who initiated hormone treatment at the time of menopause failed to translate to improved spatial memory performance. There was no relationship between the timing of hormone initiation, spatial memory performance, and amygdala or caudate nucleus volume. Our results provide support for the idea that there is a limited window of opportunity at the time of menopause for hormone treatment to influence hippocampal volume, yet the degree to which these effects translate to improved memory performance is uncertain.
PMCID: PMC2843433  PMID: 20063947
11.  Greater intake of vitamins B6 and B12 spares gray matter in healthy elderly: a voxel-based morphometry study 
Brain research  2008;1199:20-26.
Previous studies have reported that high concentrations of homocysteine and lower concentrations of vitamin B6, B12, and folate increase the risk for cognitive decline and pathology in aging populations. In this cross-sectional study, high-resolution magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans and a 3-day food diary were collected on 32 community-dwelling adults between the ages of 59 and 79. We examined the relation between vitamin B6, B12, and folate intake on cortical volume using an optimized voxel-based morphometry (VBM) method and global gray and white matter volume after correcting for age, sex, body mass index, calorie intake, and education. All participants met or surpassed the recommended daily intake for these vitamins. In the VBM analysis, we found that adults with greater vitamin B6 intake had greater gray matter volume along the medial wall, anterior cingulate cortex, medial parietal cortex, middle temporal gyrus, and superior frontal gyrus, whereas people with greater B12 intake had greater volume in the left and right superior parietal sulcus. These effects were driven by vitamin supplementation and were negated when only examining vitamin intake from diet. Folate had no effect on brain volume. Furthermore, there was no relationship between vitamin B6, B12, or folate intake on global brain volume measures, indicating that VBM methods are more sensitive for detecting localized differences in gray matter volume than global measures. These results are discussed in relation to a growing literature on vitamin intake on age-related neurocognitive deterioration.
PMCID: PMC2323025  PMID: 18281020
homocysteine; VBM; aging; brain; MRI; vitamin B6; vitamin B12
12.  Genetic Contributions to Age-Related Decline in Executive Function: A 10-Year Longitudinal Study of COMT and BDNF Polymorphisms 
Genetic variability in the dopaminergic and neurotrophic systems could contribute to age-related impairments in executive control and memory function. In this study we examined whether genetic polymorphisms for catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) and brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) were related to the trajectory of cognitive decline occurring over a 10-year period in older adults. A single nucleotide polymorphism in the COMT (Val158/108Met) gene affects the concentration of dopamine in the prefrontal cortex. In addition, a Val/Met substitution in the pro-domain for BDNF (Val66Met) affects the regulated secretion and trafficking of BDNF with Met carriers showing reduced secretion and poorer cognitive function. We found that impairments over the 10-year span on a task-switching paradigm did not vary as a function of the COMT polymorphism. However, for the BDNF polymorphism the Met carriers performed worse than Val homozygotes at the first testing session but only the Val homozygotes demonstrated a significant reduction in performance over the 10-year span. Our results argue that the COMT polymorphism does not affect the trajectory of age-related executive control decline, whereas the Val/Val polymorphism for BDNF may promote faster rates of cognitive decay in old age. These results are discussed in relation to the role of BDNF in senescence and the transforming impact of the Met allele on cognitive function in old age.
PMCID: PMC2572207  PMID: 18958211
BDNF; COMT; aging; task-switching; cognition; executive control; longitudinal
13.  Cardiovascular risks and brain function: a functional magnetic resonance imaging study of executive function in older adults 
Neurobiology of aging  2013;35(6):1396-1403.
Cardiovascular (CV) risk factors, such as hypertension, diabetes, and hyperlipidemia are associated with cognitive impairment and risk of dementia in older adults. However, the mechanisms linking them are not clear. This study aims to investigate the association between aggregate CV risk, assessed by the Framingham general cardiovascular risk profile, and functional brain activation in a group of community-dwelling older adults. Sixty participants (mean age: 64.6 years) from the Brain Health Study, a nested study of the Baltimore Experience Corps Trial, underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging using the Flanker task. We found that participants with higher CV risk had greater task-related activation in the left inferior parietal region, and this increased activation was associated with poorer task performance. Our results provide insights into the neural systems underlying the relationship between CV risk and executive function. Increased activation of the inferior parietal region may offer a pathway through which CV risk increases risk for cognitive impairment.
PMCID: PMC4282177  PMID: 24439485
Cardiovascular risk; Framingham risk score; fMRI; Brain function; Executive function; Older adults
14.  The influence of aerobic fitness on cerebral white matter integrity and cognitive function in older adults: Results of a one-year exercise intervention 
Human brain mapping  2012;34(11):2972-2985.
Cerebral white matter degeneration occurs with increasing age and is associated with declining cognitive function. Research has shown that cardiorespiratory fitness and exercise are effective as protective, even restorative, agents against cognitive and neurobiological impairments in older adults. In this study, we investigated whether the beneficial impact of aerobic fitness would extend to white matter integrity in the context of a one-year exercise intervention. Further, we examined the pattern of diffusivity changes to better understand the underlying biological mechanisms. Finally, we assessed whether training-induced changes in white matter integrity would be associated with improvements in cognitive performance independent of aerobic fitness gains. Results showed that aerobic fitness training did not affect group-level change in white matter integrity, executive function, or short-term memory, but that greater aerobic fitness derived from the walking program was associated with greater change in white matter integrity in the frontal and temporal lobes, and greater improvement in short-term memory. Increases in white matter integrity, however, were not associated with short-term memory improvement, independent of fitness improvements. Therefore, while not all findings are consistent with previous research, we provide novel evidence for correlated change in training-induced aerobic fitness, white matter integrity, and cognition among healthy older adults.
PMCID: PMC4096122  PMID: 22674729
Diffusion tensor imaging; Anisotropy; Cerebrum; Cognition; Physical fitness; Aging
15.  Competing physiological pathways link individual differences in weight and abdominal adiposity to white matter microstructure 
NeuroImage  2013;79:129-137.
Being overweight or obese is associated with reduced white matter integrity throughout the brain. It is not yet clear which physiological systems mediate the association between inter-individual variation in adiposity and white matter. We tested whether composite indicators of cardiovascular, lipid, glucose, and inflammatory factors would mediate the adiposity-related variation in white matter microstructure, measured with diffusion tensor imaging on a group of neurologically healthy adults (N=155). A composite factor representing adiposity (comprised of body mass index and waist circumference) was negatively associated fractional anisotropy, and increased radial diffusivity, throughout the brain, a pattern linked to myelin structure changes in non-human animal models. A similar global negative association was found for factors representing inflammation and, to a lesser extent, glucose regulation. In contrast, factors for blood pressure and dyslipidemia had positive associations with white matter in isolated brain regions. Taken together, these competing influences on the diffusion signal were significant mediators linking adiposity to white matter and explained up to fifty-percent of the adiposity-white matter variance. These results provide the first evidence for contrasting physiological pathways, a globally distributed immunity-linked negative component and a more localized vascular-linked positive component, that associate adiposity to individual differences in the microstructure of white matter tracts in otherwise healthy adults.
PMCID: PMC3752776  PMID: 23639257
adiposity; inflammation; obesity; metabolic syndrome; white matter
16.  Inflammatory Pathways Link Socioeconomic Inequalities to White Matter Architecture 
Cerebral Cortex (New York, NY)  2012;23(9):2058-2071.
Socioeconomic disadvantage confers risk for aspects of ill health that may be mediated by systemic inflammatory influences on the integrity of distributed brain networks. Following this hypothesis, we tested whether socioeconomic disadvantage related to the structural integrity of white matter tracts connecting brain regions of distributed networks, and whether such a relationship would be mediated by anthropometric, behavioral, and molecular risk factors associated with systemic inflammation. Otherwise healthy adults (N= 155, aged 30–50 years, 78 men) completed protocols assessing multilevel indicators of socioeconomic position (SEP), anthropometric and behavioral measures of adiposity and cigarette smoking, circulating levels of C-reactive protein (CRP), and white matter integrity by diffusion tensor imaging. Mediation modeling was used to test associations between SEP indicators and measures of white matter tract integrity, as well as indirect mediating paths. Measures of tract integrity followed a socioeconomic gradient: individuals completing more schooling, earning higher incomes, and residing in advantaged neighborhoods exhibited increases in white matter fractional anisotropy and decreases in radial diffusivity, relative to disadvantaged individuals. Moreover, analysis of indirect paths showed that adiposity, cigarette smoking, and CRP partially mediated these effects. Socioeconomic inequalities may relate to diverse health disparities via inflammatory pathways impacting the structural integrity of brain networks.
PMCID: PMC3729196  PMID: 22772650
diffusion tensor imaging; inflammation; social health disparities; socioeconomic inequality; stress; white matter fractional anisotropy
17.  White matter microstructure is associated with cognitive control in children 
Biological psychology  2013;94(1):109-115.
Cognitive control, which involves the ability to pay attention and suppress interference, is important for learning and achievement during childhood. The white matter tracts related to control during childhood are not well known. We examined the relationship between white matter microstructure and cognitive control in 61 children aged 7 to 9 years using diffusion tensor imaging (DTI). This technique enables an in vivo characterization of microstructural properties of white matter based on properties of diffusion. Such properties include fractional anisotropy, mean diffusivity, axial diffusivity, and radial diffusivity, measures thought to reflect specific biological properties of white matter integrity. Our results suggest that children with higher estimates of white matter integrity in the corona radiata, superior longitudinal fasciculus, posterior thalamic radiation, and cerebral peduncle, were more accurate during incongruent (>><>>, <<><<) and neutral (-->--, --<--) trials of a task of cognitive control. Importantly, less interference during the task (i.e., incongruent and neutral difference scores) was associated with greater white matter microstructure in the posterior thalamic radiation and cerebral peduncle. Fiber tracts in a frontal-parietal-striatal-motor circuit seem to play a role in cognitive control in children.
PMCID: PMC3742734  PMID: 23714226
child; cognition; diffusion tensor imaging; flanker; MRI
18.  Basal ganglia morphology links the metabolic syndrome and depressive symptoms 
Physiology & behavior  2013;123:214-222.
The metabolic syndrome (MetS) is a clustering of cardiovascular and cerebrovascular risk factors that are often comorbid with depressive symptoms. Individual components of the MetS also covary with the morphology of basal ganglia regions that are altered by depression. However, it remains unknown whether the covariation between the MetS and depressive symptomatology can be accounted for in part by morphological changes in the basal ganglia. Accordingly, we tested the hypothesis that increased depressive symptoms among individuals with the MetS might be statistically mediated by reduced grey matter volume in basal ganglia regions. The presence of the MetS was determined in 147 middle-aged adults using the criteria of the National Cholesterol Education Program, Adult Treatment Panel III. Basal ganglia volumes were determined on an a priori basis by automated segmentation of high-resolution magnetic resonance images. Depressive symptoms were assessed using the Patient Health Questionnaire. Even after controlling for demographic and other confounding factors, having the MetS and meeting more MetS criteria covaried with reduced globus pallidus volume. Meeting more MetS criteria and reduced pallidal volume were also related to depressive symptoms. Moreover, the MetS-depression association was statistically mediated by pallidal volume. In summary, reduced globus pallidus volume is a neural correlate of the MetS that may partly account for its association with depressive symptoms.
PMCID: PMC4118460  PMID: 24096008
basal ganglia; cardiovascular disease; depression; metabolic syndrome
19.  A neuroimaging investigation of the association between aerobic fitness, hippocampal volume, and memory performance in preadolescent children 
Brain research  2010;1358:172-183.
Because children are becoming overweight, unhealthy, and unfit, understanding the neurocognitive benefits of an active lifestyle in childhood has important public health and educational implications. Animal research has indicated that aerobic exercise is related to increased cell proliferation and survival in the hippocampus as well as enhanced hippocampal-dependent learning and memory. Recent evidence extends this relationship to elderly humans by suggesting that high aerobic fitness levels in older adults are associated with increased hippocampal volume and superior memory performance. The present study aimed to further extend the link between fitness, hippocampal volume, and memory to a sample of preadolescent children. To this end, magnetic resonance imaging was employed to investigate whether higher- and lower-fit 9- and 10-year-old children showed differences in hippocampal volume and if the differences were related to performance on an item and relational memory task. Relational but not item memory is primarily supported by the hippocampus. Consistent with predictions, higher-fit children showed greater bilateral hippocampal volumes and superior relational memory task performance compared to lower-fit children. Hippocampal volume was also positively associated with performance on the relational but not the item memory task. Furthermore, bilateral hippocampal volume was found to mediate the relationship between fitness level (VO2 max) and relational memory. No relationship between aerobic fitness, nucleus accumbens volume, and memory was reported, which strengthens the hypothesized specific effect of fitness on the hippocampus. The findings are the first to indicate that aerobic fitness may relate to the structure and function of the preadolescent human brain.
PMCID: PMC3953557  PMID: 20735996
Brain; Children; Exercise; Hippocampus; MRI; Physical activity
20.  Neurobiological markers of exercise-related brain plasticity in older adults 
The current study examined how a randomized one-year aerobic exercise program for healthy older adults would affect serum levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), insulin-like growth factor type 1 (IGF-1), and vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) - putative markers of exercise-induced benefits on brain function. The study also examined whether (a) change in the concentration of these growth factors was associated with alterations in functional connectivity following exercise, and (b) the extent to which pre-intervention growth factor levels were associated with training-related changes in functional connectivity. In 65 participants (mean age = 66.4), we found that although there were no group-level changes in growth factors as a function of the intervention, increased temporal lobe connectivity between the bilateral parahippocampus and the bilateral middle temporal gyrus was associated with increased BDNF, IGF-1, and VEGF for an aerobic walking group but not for a non-aerobic control group, and greater pre-intervention VEGF was associated with greater training-related increases in this functional connection. Results are consistent with animal models of exercise and the brain, but are the first to show in humans that exercise-induced increases in temporal lobe functional connectivity are associated with changes in growth factors and may be augmented by greater baseline VEGF.
PMCID: PMC3544982  PMID: 23123199
exercise; aging; functional connectivity; fMRI; default mode network; aerobic fitness; growth factors
22.  Aerobic fitness is associated with greater white matter integrity in children 
Aerobic fitness has been found to play a positive role in brain and cognitive health of children. Yet, many of the neural biomarkers related to aerobic fitness remain unknown. Here, using diffusion tensor imaging, we demonstrated that higher aerobic fitness was related to greater estimates of white matter microstructure in children. Higher fit 9- and 10-year-old children showed greater fractional anisotropy (FA) in sections of the corpus callosum, corona radiata, and superior longitudinal fasciculus, compared to lower fit children. The FA effects were primarily characterized by aerobic fitness differences in radial diffusivity, thereby raising the possibility that estimates of myelination may vary as a function of individual differences in fitness during childhood. White matter structure may be another potential neural mechanism of aerobic fitness that assists in efficient communication between gray matter regions as well as the integration of regions into networks.
PMCID: PMC4137385  PMID: 25191243
cardiorespiratory fitness; development; diffusion tensor imaging; fiber tracts; microstructure
23.  BDNF mediates improvements in executive function following a 1-year exercise intervention 
Executive function declines with age, but engaging in aerobic exercise may attenuate decline. One mechanism by which aerobic exercise may preserve executive function is through the up-regulation of brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF), which also declines with age. The present study examined BDNF as a mediator of the effects of a 1-year walking intervention on executive function in 90 older adults (mean age = 66.82). Participants were randomized to a stretching and toning control group or a moderate intensity walking intervention group. BDNF serum levels and performance on a task-switching paradigm were collected at baseline and follow-up. We found that age moderated the effect of intervention group on changes in BDNF levels, with those in the highest age quartile showing the greatest increase in BDNF after 1-year of moderate intensity walking exercise (p = 0.036). The mediation analyses revealed that BDNF mediated the effect of the intervention on task-switch accuracy, but did so as a function of age, such that exercise-induced changes in BDNF mediated the effect of exercise on task-switch performance only for individuals over the age of 71. These results demonstrate that both age and BDNF serum levels are important factors to consider when investigating the mechanisms by which exercise interventions influence cognitive outcomes, particularly in elderly populations.
PMCID: PMC4263078  PMID: 25566019
BDNF; executive function; aging; exercise; physical activity; cognition; mediation analysis
24.  Aging Brain from a Network Science Perspective: Something to Be Positive About? 
PLoS ONE  2013;8(11):e78345.
To better understand age differences in brain function and behavior, the current study applied network science to model functional interactions between brain regions. We observed a shift in network topology whereby for older adults subcortical and cerebellar structures overlapping with the Salience network had more connectivity to the rest of the brain, coupled with fragmentation of large-scale cortical networks such as the Default and Fronto-Parietal networks. Additionally, greater integration of the dorsal medial thalamus and red nucleus in the Salience network was associated with greater satisfaction with life for older adults, which is consistent with theoretical predictions of age-related increases in emotion regulation that are thought to help maintain well-being and life satisfaction in late adulthood. In regard to cognitive abilities, greater ventral medial prefrontal cortex coherence with its topological neighbors in the Default Network was associated with faster processing speed. Results suggest that large-scale organizing properties of the brain differ with normal aging, and this perspective may offer novel insight into understanding age-related differences in cognitive function and well-being.
PMCID: PMC3819386  PMID: 24223147
25.  A Review of the Effects of Physical Activity and Exercise on Cognitive and Brain Functions in Older Adults 
Journal of Aging Research  2013;2013:657508.
Studies supporting the notion that physical activity and exercise can help alleviate the negative impact of age on the body and the mind abound. This literature review provides an overview of important findings in this fast growing research domain. Results from cross-sectional, longitudinal, and intervention studies with healthy older adults, frail patients, and persons suffering from mild cognitive impairment and dementia are reviewed and discussed. Together these finding suggest that physical exercise is a promising nonpharmaceutical intervention to prevent age-related cognitive decline and neurodegenerative diseases.
PMCID: PMC3786463  PMID: 24102028

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