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.
aging; BDNF; depression; exercise; hippocampus
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.
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.
Over the next twenty years the number of Americans diagnosed with dementia is expected to more than double (CDC 2007). It is, therefore, an important public health initiative to understand what factors contribute to the longevity of a healthy mind. Both default mode network (DMN) function and increased aerobic fitness have been associated with better cognitive performance and reduced incidence of Alzheimer’s disease among older adults. Here we examine the association between aerobic fitness, functional connectivity in the DMN, and cognitive performance. Results showed significant age-related deficits in functional connectivity in both local and distributed DMN pathways. However, in a group of healthy elderly adults, almost half of the age-related disconnections showed increased functional connectivity as a function of aerobic fitness level. Finally, we examine the hypothesis that functional connectivity in the DMN is one source of variance in the relationship between aerobic fitness and cognition. Results demonstrate instances of both specific and global DMN connectivity mediating the relationship between fitness and cognition. We provide the first evidence for functional connectivity as a source of variance in the association between aerobic fitness and cognition, and discuss results in the context of neurobiological theories of cognitive aging and disease.
cognitive aging; fMRI; functional connectivity; aerobic exercise; executive function; spatial memory
Aging is marked by a decline in cognitive function, which is often preceded by losses in gray matter volume. Fortunately, higher cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) levels are associated with an attenuation of age-related losses in gray matter volume and a reduced risk for cognitive impairment. Despite these links, we have only a rudimentary understanding of whether fitness-related increases in gray matter volume lead to elevated cognitive function. In this cross-sectional study, we examined whether the association between higher aerobic fitness levels and elevated executive function was mediated by greater gray matter volume in the prefrontal cortex (PFC). One hundred and forty-two older adults (mean age = 66.6 years) completed structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, CRF assessments, and performed Stroop and spatial working memory (SPWM) tasks. Gray matter volume was assessed using an optimized voxel-based morphometry approach. Consistent with our predictions, higher fitness levels were associated with (a) better performance on both the Stroop and SPWM tasks, and (b) greater gray matter volume in several regions, including the dorsolateral PFC (DLPFC). Volume of the right inferior frontal gyrus and precentral gyrus mediated the relationship between CRF and Stroop interference while a non-overlapping set of regions bilaterally in the DLPFC mediated the association between CRF and SPWM accuracy. These results suggest that specific regions of the DLPFC differentially relate to inhibition and spatial working memory. Thus, fitness may influence cognitive function by reducing brain atrophy in targeted areas in healthy older adults.
cardiorespiratory fitness; executive function; voxel-based morphometry; cortical volume; prefrontal cortex; mediation
Obesity and decreased physical health are linked to deficits in several cognitive domains. The broad range of cognitive problems linked to obesity suggests a global mechanism that may interfere with multiple neural systems. We examined how variation in body mass index (BMI) is associated with the microstructural integrity of fiber connections in the human brain.
White matter structure was measured using diffusion tensor imaging in 28 participants (mean age = 30 years) with BMI scores ranging from normal weight to obese (19.5–45.7 kg/m2) based on standard BMI criteria.
Using a whole-brain voxelwise analysis, we found that, across participants, the fractional anisotropy of white matter voxels parametrically decreased with increasing BMI (63% of white matter voxels). Midbrain and brainstem tracts were among the pathways most strongly associated with obesity (r = −0.18 to −0.33, df = 27, all p values < .05). We also observed a weaker overall diffusion signal in individuals with higher BMI than controls with normal weight (r = −0.14 to −0.71, df = 27, for 67% of fiber pathways tested, all p values < .05). After controlling for this decrease in general diffusivity, we found that decreases in fractional anisotropy stemmed from both a decrease in axial diffusivity (p < .05) and an increase in radial diffusivity (p < .05).
Our results show that increased BMI is globally associated with a reduction in white matter integrity throughout the brain, elucidating a potential mechanism by which changes in physical health may influence cognitive health.
DTI; white matter; fractional anisotropy; body mass index; obesity
The human brain shrinks with advancing age, but recent research suggests that it is also capable of remarkable plasticity, even in late life. In this review we summarize the research linking greater amounts of physical activity to less cortical atrophy, better brain function, and enhanced cognitive function, and argue that physical activity takes advantage of the brain's natural capacity for plasticity. Further, although the effects of physical activity on the brain are relatively widespread, there is also some specificity, such that prefrontal and hippocampal areas appear to be more influenced than other areas of the brain. The specificity of these effects, we argue, provides a biological basis for understanding the capacity for physical activity to influence neurocognitive and neuropsychiatric disorders such as depression. We conclude that physical activity is a promising intervention that can influence the endogenous pharmacology of the brain to enhance cognitive and emotional function in late adulthood.
aging; physical activity; exercise; brain; plasticity; neuroplasticity
The brain atrophies in late life. However, there are many factors that either magnify or mitigate the rate of atrophy. Loss of estrogens during menopause and administration of hormone therapy have both been hypothesized as sources of individual variation in the prevalence of cortical and subcortical atrophy and loss of cognitive function in late adulthood. In this review we critically summarize and assess the extant rodent and human neuroimaging studies that examine the link between estrogens and hippocampal morphology and function and focus predominantly on human studies of the hippocampus in postmenopausal women. Several cross-sectional studies report that the size of the hippocampus is larger in women receiving hormone therapy while several other cross-sectional studies report either negligible effects or smaller volumes in women receiving hormone therapy. We suggest that these differences might be caused by the variation between studies in the age of the samples studied, the duration of therapy, and the age at which hormone therapy is initiated. Unfortunately, all of the human studies reviewed here are cross-sectional in nature. With the lack of well-controlled randomized trials with neuroimaging measures on postmenopausal women both before and after some exposure interval, the effect of hormone therapy on hippocampal atrophy will remain equivocal and poorly understood.
Hormone therapy; Estrogen; Hippocampus; Volume; Brain
This study used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine the influence of a 9-month physical activity program on task-evoked brain activation during childhood. The results demonstrated that 8- to 9-year-old children who participated in 60+ min of physical activity, 5 days per week, for 9 months, showed decreases in fMRI brain activation in the right anterior prefrontal cortex coupled with within-group improvements in performance on a task of attentional and interference control. Children assigned to a wait-list control group did not show changes in brain function. Furthermore, at post-test, children in the physical activity group showed similar anterior frontal brain patterns and incongruent accuracy rates to a group of college-aged young adults. Children in the wait-list control group still differed from the young adults in terms of anterior prefrontal activation and performance at post-test. There were no significant changes in fMRI activation in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) for either group. These results suggest that physical activity during childhood may enhance specific elements of prefrontal cortex function involved in cognitive control.
activation; brain; children; fitness; fMRI; physical activity
Age-related cognitive decline is linked to numerous molecular, structural, and functional changes in the brain. However, physical activity is a promising method of reducing unfavorable age-related changes. Physical activity exerts its effects on the brain through many molecular pathways, some of which are regulated by genetic variants in humans. In this paper, we highlight genes including apolipoprotein E (APOE), brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), and catechol-O-methyltransferase (COMT) along with dietary omega-3 fatty acid, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), as potential moderators of the effect of physical activity on brain health. There are a growing number of studies indicating that physical activity might mitigate the genetic risks for disease and brain dysfunction and that the combination of greater amounts of DHA intake with physical activity might promote better brain function than either treatment alone. Understanding whether genes or other lifestyles moderate the effects of physical activity on neurocognitive health is necessary for delineating the pathways by which brain health can be enhanced and for grasping the individual variation in the effectiveness of physical activity interventions on the brain and cognition. There is a need for future research to continue to assess the factors that moderate the effects of physical activity on neurocognitive function.
The purpose of this study was to extend our earlier work to determine the extent to which cardiorespiratory fitness is associated with the frequency of memory problems via its effects on the hippocampus and spatial working memory. We hypothesized that age, sex, education, body composition, and physical activity were direct determinants of fitness which, in turn, influenced frequency of forgetting indirectly through hippocampal volume and spatial working memory.
We conducted assessments of hippocampal volume, spatial working memory, frequency of forgetting, BMI, physical activity, demographic characteristics, and cardiorespiratory fitness in 158 older adults (M age = 66.49). Path analyses within a covariance modeling framework were used to examine relationships among these constructs.
Sex, age, BMI, and education were all significant determinants of cardiorespiratory fitness. The hypothesized path models testing the effects of fitness on frequency of forgetting through hippocampal volume and accuracy and speed of spatial working memory all fit the data well.
Our findings suggest that older adults with higher levels of fitness show greater preservation of hippocampal volume which, in turn, is associated with more accurate and faster spatial memory and fewer episodes of forgetting. Given the proportion of older adults reporting memory problems, it is necessary to determine whether improvements in fitness brought about by physical activity interventions can result in subsequent attenuation of memory problems or potentially improvements in memory.
Frequency of Forgetting; Hippocampus Volume; Cardiorespiratory Fitness; Spatial Memory; Older Adults
Age-related cognitive impairments often include difficulty retrieving memories, particularly those that rely on executive control. In this paper we discuss the influence of the prefrontal cortex on memory retrieval, and the specific memory processes associated with the prefrontal cortex that decline in late adulthood. We conclude that preretrieval processes associated with preparation to make a memory judgment are impaired, leading to greater reliance on postretrieval processes. This is consistent with the view that impairments in executive control significantly contribute to deficits in controlled retrieval. Finally, we discuss age-related changes in sleep as a potential mechanism that contributes to deficiencies in executive control that are important for efficient retrieval. The sleep literature points to the importance of slow-wave sleep in restoration of prefrontal cortex function. Given that slow-wave sleep significantly declines with age, we hypothesize that age-related changes in slow-wave sleep could mediate age-related decline in executive control, manifesting a robust deficit in controlled memory retrieval processes. Interventions, like physical activity, that improve sleep could be effective methods to enhance controlled memory processes in late life.
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.
Physical exercise has the potential to affect cognitive function, but most evidence to date focuses on cognitive effects of fitness training. Cognitive exercise also may influence cognitive function, but many cognitive training paradigms have failed to provide carry-over to daily cognitive function. Video games provide a broader, more contextual approach to cognitive training that may induce cognitive gains and have carry over to daily function. Most video games do not involve physical exercise, but some novel forms of interactive video games combine physical activity and cognitive challenge.
This paper describes a randomized clinical trial in 168 postmenopausal sedentary overweight women that compares an interactive video dance game with brisk walking and delayed entry controls. The primary endpoint is adherence to activity at six months. Additional endpoints include aspects of physical and mental health. We focus this report primarily on the rationale and plans for assessment of multiple cognitive functions.
This randomized clinical trial may provide new information about the cognitive effects of interactive videodance. It is also the first trial to examine physical and cognitive effects in older women. Interactive video games may offer novel strategies to promote physical activity and health across the life span.
The study is IRB approved and the number is: PRO08080012
ClinicalTrials.gov Identifier: NCT01443455
There is increasing evidence that cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) is associated with brain structure and function, and improvements in CRF through exercise training have been associated with neural and cognitive functioning in older adults. The objectives of this study were to validate the use of a non-exercise estimate of CRF, and to examine its association with cognitive function, brain structure and subjective memory complaints. Low active, older adults (N = 86; M age= 65.14) completed a physician-supervised maximal exercise test, a 1-mile timed walk, several measures of cognitive function, and a 3 Tesla structural MRI. Fitness was also calculated from an equation derived by (Jurca et al., 2005) based on age, sex, body mass index, resting heart rate, and self-reported physical activity level. Analyses indicated that all three measures of CRF were significantly correlated with one another. In addition, measures of cognitive function, hippocampus volume, and memory complaints were significantly correlated with each measure of fitness. These findings have implications for using a low-risk, low-cost, non-exercise estimate of CRF in determining fitness associations with brain structure and cognitive function in older adults. As such, this measure may have utility for larger population based studies. Further validation is required, as is determination of whether such relationships hold over the course of exercise interventions.
Equation-derived CRF; cognitive function; hippocampus; older adults
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.
Aging; brain; exercise; fitness; human; N-acetylaspartate; working memory
The present investigation is the first to explore the association between childhood aerobic fitness and basal ganglia structure and function. Rodent research has revealed that exercise influences the striatum by increasing dopamine signaling and angiogenesis. In children, higher aerobic fitness levels are associated with greater hippocampal volumes, superior performance on tasks of attentional and interference control, and elevated event-related brain potential indices of executive function. The present study used magnetic resonance imaging to investigate if higher-fit and lower-fit 9- and 10-year-old children exhibited differential volumes of other subcortical brain regions, specifically the basal ganglia involved in attentional control. The relationship between aerobic fitness, dorsal and ventral striatum volumes and performance on an attention and inhibition Eriksen flanker task was also examined. The results indicated that higher-fit children showed superior flanker task performance compared to lower-fit children. Higher-fit children also showed greater volumes of the dorsal striatum, and dorsal striatum volume was negatively associated with behavioral interference. The results support the claim that the dorsal striatum is involved in cognitive control and response resolution and that these cognitive processes vary as a function of aerobic fitness. No relationship was found between aerobic fitness, the volume of the ventral striatum and flanker performance. The findings suggest that increased childhood aerobic fitness is associated with greater dorsal striatal volumes and that this is related to enhanced cognitive control. Because children are becoming increasingly overweight, unhealthy and unfit, understanding the neurocognitive benefits of an active lifestyle during childhood has important public health and educational implications.
Brain; Development; Exercise; MRI; Physical activity; Neurocognition; Neuroimaging; Striatum
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.
aging; MRI; spatial memory; cognition; brain
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.
brain-derived neurotrophic factor; hippocampus; human; brain; caudate nucleus; aging
Aging is accompanied by a general deterioration of fluid cognitive processes and a reduction in resting cerebral blood flow (CBF). While the two phenomena have been observed independently, it is uncertain whether individual differences in cerebral blood flow are reliably associated with cognitive functioning in older adults. Furthermore, previous studies have concentrated primarily on gross measures of cognition and global gray matter CBF, leaving open the possibility that perfusion of specific brain regions may relate differentially to distinct cognitive domains. The present study sought to provide a more focused treatment of CBF and cognitive function in the context of aging by investigating the relationships among aging, spatial memory and resting hippocampal blood flow, both between and within younger and older adult groups. Blood flow was quantified using a novel Flow-Enhanced Signal Intensity (FENSI) technique which provides a localized, functionally-relevant measure of volumetric flow across a given unit area. As expected, we found that aging was associated with poorer spatial memory and reduced resting CBF. Moreover, hippocampal blood flow was positively correlated with spatial memory performance in the older adult group, suggesting that increased blood flow to the hippocampus is associated with superior memory performance in older adults. These results demonstrate a region-specific CBF—cognition relationship and thereby offer new insight into the complex connection between the aging brain and behavior.
hippocampus; cerebral blood flow; brain perfusion; cognition; memory; aging
Performance in most complex cognitive and psychomotor tasks improves with training, yet the extent of improvement varies among individuals. Is it possible to forecast the benefit that a person might reap from training? Several behavioral measures have been used to predict individual differences in task improvement, but their predictive power is limited. Here we show that individual differences in patterns of time-averaged T2*-weighted MRI images in the dorsal striatum recorded at the initial stage of training predict subsequent learning success in a complex video game with high accuracy. These predictions explained more than half of the variance in learning success among individuals, suggesting that individual differences in neuroanatomy or persistent physiology predict whether and to what extent people will benefit from training in a complex task. Surprisingly, predictions from white matter were highly accurate, while voxels in the gray matter of the dorsal striatum did not contain any information about future training success. Prediction accuracy was higher in the anterior than the posterior half of the dorsal striatum. The link between trainability and the time-averaged T2*-weighted signal in the dorsal striatum reaffirms the role of this part of the basal ganglia in learning and executive functions, such as task-switching and task coordination processes. The ability to predict who will benefit from training by using neuroimaging data collected in the early training phase may have far-reaching implications for the assessment of candidates for specific training programs as well as the study of populations that show deficiencies in learning new skills.
To determine whether Experience Corps (EC), a social service program, would improve age-vulnerable executive functions and increase activity in brain regions in a high-risk group through increased cognitive and physical activity.
Eight community-dwelling, older female volunteers and nine matched wait-list controls were recruited to serve in the ongoing EC: Baltimore program in three elementary schools. We employed functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) preintervention and postintervention to examine whether EC volunteers improved executive function and showed increased activity in the prefrontal cortex relative to controls. fMRI volunteers were trained and placed with other volunteers 15 h/wk for 6 months during the academic year to assist teachers in kindergarten through third grade to promote children’s literacy and academic achievement.
Participants were African American and had low education, low income, and low Mini-Mental State Examination scores (M = 24), indicative of elevated risk for cognitive impairment. Volunteers exhibited intervention-specific increases in brain activity in the left prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate cortex over the 6-month interval relative to matched controls. Neural gains were matched by behavioral improvements in executive inhibitory ability.
Using fMRI, we demonstrated intervention-specific short-term gains in executive function and in the activity of prefrontal cortical regions in older adults at elevated risk for cognitive impairment. These pilot results provide proof of concept for use-dependent brain plasticity in later life, and, that interventions designed to promote health and function through everyday activity may enhance plasticity in key regions that support executive function.
Prefrontal cortex; Executive function; fMRI; Aging; Social engagement
We investigated the relative involvement of cortical regions supporting attentional control in older and younger adults during performance on a modified version of the Stroop task. Participants were exposed to two different types of incongruent trials. One of these, an incongruent-ineligible condition, produces conflict at the non-response level, while the second, an incongruent-eligible condition, produces conflict at both non-response and response levels of information processing. Greater attentional control is needed to perform the incongruent-eligible condition compared to other conditions. We examined the cortical recruitment associated with this task in an event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging paradigm in twenty-five older and twenty-five younger adults. Our results indicated that while younger adults demonstrated an increase in the activation of cortical regions responsible for maintaining attentional control in response to increased levels of conflict, such sensitivity and flexibility of the cortical regions to increased attentional control demands was absent in older adults. These results suggest a limitation in older adults’ capabilities for flexibly recruiting the attentional network in response to increasing attentional demands.
attentional control; aging; fMRI; flexibility; Stroop task; interference; inhibition
Regional manual volumetry is the gold standard of in vivo neuroanatomy, but is labor-intensive, can be imperfectly reliable, and allows for measuring limited number of regions. Voxel-based morphometry (VBM) has perfect repeatability and assesses local structure across the whole brain. However, its anatomic validity is unclear, and with its increasing popularity, a systematic comparison of VBM to manual volumetry is necessary. The few existing comparison studies are limited by small samples, qualitative comparisons, and limited selection and modest reliability of manual measures. Our goal was to overcome those limitations by quantitatively comparing optimized VBM findings with highly reliable multiple regional measures in a large sample (N = 200) across a wide agespan (18–81). We report a complex pattern of similarities and differences. Peak values of VBM volume estimates (modulated density) produced stronger age differences and a different spatial distribution from manual measures. However, when we aggregated VBM-derived information across voxels contained in specific anatomically defined regions (masks), the patterns of age differences became more similar, although important discrepancies emerged. Notably, VBM revealed stronger age differences in the regions bordering CSF and white matter areas prone to leukoaraiosis, and VBM was more likely to report nonlinearities in age-volume relationships. In the white matter regions, manual measures showed stronger negative associations with age than the corresponding VBM-based masks. We conclude that VBM provides realistic estimates of age differences in the regional gray matter only when applied to anatomically defined regions, but overestimates effects when individual peaks are interpreted. It may be beneficial to use VBM as a first-pass strategy, followed by manual measurement of anatomically-defined regions.
Voxel-Based Morphometry; manual morphometry; aging; gray matter; white matter; regional brain volume; MRI; nonlinear age trends; method comparison; ICV correction