Multiple Brain Markers are Linked to Age-Related Variation in Cognition

Age-related alterations in brain structure and function have been challenging to link to cognition due to potential overlapping influences of multiple neurobiological cascades. We examined multiple brain markers associated with age-related variation in cognition. Clinically normal older humans aged 65–90 from the Harvard Aging Brain Study (N = 186) were characterized on a priori magnetic resonance imaging markers of gray matter thickness and volume, white matter hyperintensities, fractional anisotropy (FA), resting-state functional connectivity, positron emission tomography markers of glucose metabolism and amyloid burden, and cognitive factors of processing speed, executive function, and episodic memory. Partial correlation and mediation analyses estimated age-related variance in cognition shared with individual brain markers and unique to each marker. The largest relationships linked FA and striatum volume to processing speed and executive function, and hippocampal volume to episodic memory. Of the age-related variance in cognition, 70–80% was accounted for by combining all brain markers (but only ∼20% of total variance). Age had significant indirect effects on cognition via brain markers, with significant markers varying across cognitive domains. These results suggest that most age-related variation in cognition is shared among multiple brain markers, but potential specificity between some brain markers and cognitive domains motivates additional study of age-related markers of neural health.


Aging of cerebral white matter in middle-aged and older adults: A seven-year follow-up

The few extant reports of longitudinal white matter (WM) changes in healthy aging, using diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), reveal substantial differences in change across brain regions and DTI indices. According to the “last-in-first-out” hypothesis of brain aging late-developing WM tracts may be particularly vulnerable to advanced age. To test this hypothesis we compared age-related changes in association, commissural and projection WM fiber regions using a skeletonized, region of interest DTI approach. Using linear mixed effect models, we evaluated the influences of age and vascular risk at baseline on seven-year changes in three indices of WM integrity and organization (axial diffusivity, AD, radial diffusivity, RD, and fractional anisotropy, FA) in healthy middle-aged and older adults (mean age = 65.4, SD = 9.0 years). Association fibers showed the most pronounced declines over time. Advanced age was associated with greater longitudinal changes in RD and FA, independent of fiber type. Furthermore, older age was associated with longitudinal RD increases in late-developing, but not early-developing projection fibers. These findings demonstrate the increased vulnerability of later developing WM regions and support the “last-in-first-out” hypothesis of brain aging.

Primer on how exercise promotes cognitive integrity in the aging brain

Alterations in the structure and organization of the aging central nervous system (CNS), and associated functional deficits, result in cognitive decline and increase susceptibility to neurodegeneration. Age-related changes to the neurovascular unit (NVU), and their consequences for cerebrovascular function, are implicated as driving cognitive impairment during aging as well as in neurodegenerative disease. The molecular events underlying these effects are incompletely characterized. Similarly, the mechanisms underlying effects of factors that reduce the impact of aging on the brain, such as physical exercise, are also opaque. A study in this issue of PLOS Biology links the NVU to cognitive decline in the aging brain and suggests a potential underlying molecular mechanism. Notably, the study further links the protective effects of chronic exercise on cognition to neurovascular integrity during aging.

Stimulus-independent semantic bias misdirects word recognition in older adults

Rogers & Wingfield in JASA:

Older adults' normally adaptive use of semantic context to aid in word recognition can have a negative consequence of causing misrecognitions, especially when the word actually spoken sounds similar to a word that more closely fits the context. Word-pairs were presented to young and older adults, with the second word of the pair masked by multi-talker babble varying in signal-to-noise ratio. Results confirmed older adults' greater tendency to misidentify words based on their semantic context compared to the young adults, and to do so with a higher level of confidence. This age difference was unaffected by differences in the relative level of acoustic masking.

Review: Neural reorganization and compensation in aging

Associations between additional recruitment and better performance in older adults have led to the suggestion that the additional recruitment may contribute to preserved cognitive function in old age and may explain some of the variation among individuals in preservation of function. However, many alternative explanations are possible, and recent findings and methodological developments have highlighted the need for more systematic approaches to determine whether reorganization occurs with age and whether it benefits performance. We reevaluate current evidence for compensatory functional reorganization in the light of recent moves to address these challenges.

Early-late life trade-offs and the evolution of ageing in the wild

Here, we compiled 26 studies of free-ranging vertebrate populations that explicitly tested for a trade-off between performance in early and late life. Our review brings overall support for the presence of early-late life trade-offs, suggesting that the limitation of available resources leads individuals to trade somatic maintenance later in life for high allocation to reproduction early in life. We discuss our results in the light of two closely related theories of ageing—the disposable soma and the antagonistic pleiotropy theories—and propose that the principle of energy allocation roots the ageing process in the evolution of life-history strategies.

The effect of aging on fMRI: Correction for the effects of vascular reactivity

Important paper from Tsvetanov, Cam-CAN et al. on vascular effects in aging in a sample of 335 subjects.

The scaling analysis revealed that much of the effects of age on task-based activation studies with fMRI do not survive correction for changes in vascular reactivity, and are likely to have been overestimated in previous fMRI studies of ageing.