Memory-related brain network shrinks with aging

September 20, 2013 by Karene Booker
Memory-related brain network shrinks with aging
Network of brain regions, highlighted in red and yellow, show atrophy in both healthy aging and neurodegenerative disease. The regions highlighted are susceptible to normal aging and dementia.

Brain regions associated with memory shrink as adults age, and this size decrease is more pronounced in those who go on to develop neurodegenerative disease, reports a new study published Sept. 18 in the Journal of Neuroscience (Vol. 33:38). The volume reduction is linked with an overall decline in cognitive ability and with increased genetic risk for Alzheimer's disease, the authors say.

"Our results identify a specific pattern of structural brain changes that may provide a possible brain marker for the onset of Alzheimer's disease," said Nathan Spreng, assistant professor of human development and the Rebecca Q. and James C. Morgan Sesquicentennial Faculty Fellow in Cornell's College of Human Ecology.

The study is one of the first to measure structural changes in a collection of – not just one single area – over the adult life course and from normal aging to neurodegenerative disease, said Spreng, who co-authored the study with Gary R. Turner of York University in Toronto.

Overall, they studied from 848 individuals spanning the adult lifespan, using data from the Open Access Series of Imaging Studies and the Alzheimer's Disease Neuroimaging Initiative (ADNI). About half of the ADNI sample was assessed multiple times over several years, allowing the researchers to measure brain changes over time and determine who did and did not progress to dementia.

The researchers found that in the default network (a set of brain regions associated with internally generated thoughts such as memory) declined in both healthy and pathological aging. The researchers noted the greatest decline in Alzheimer's patients and in those who progressed from to Alzheimer's disease. Reduced brain volumes in these regions were associated with declines in cognitive ability, the presence of known biological markers of Alzheimer's disease and with carrying the APOE4 variant of APOE gene, a known risk factor for Alzheimer's.

"While elements of the default network have previously been implicated in aging and neurodegenerative disease, few studies have examined broad network changes over the full adult life course with such large participant samples and including both behavioral and genetic data," said Spreng. "Our findings provide evidence for a network-based model of neurodegenerative disease, in which progressive spread through networks of connected brain regions."

The study, "Structural Covariance of the Default Network in Healthy and Pathological Aging," was supported in part by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

Explore further: Gene is marker only for mild cognitive impairment

More information:

Related Stories

Gene is marker only for mild cognitive impairment

February 12, 2013

Defying the widely held belief that a specific gene is the biggest risk factor for Alzheimer's disease, two Cornell developmental psychologists and their colleagues report that people with that gene are more likely to develop ...

Innovative method to treat Alzheimer's in mice

April 1, 2013

Researchers from the RIKEN Brain Science Institute report that they successfully used a virus vector to restore the expression of a brain protein and improve cognitive functions, in a mouse model of Alzheimer's disease.

Scientists discover how brains change with new skills

April 5, 2013

(Medical Xpress)—The phrase "practice makes perfect" has a neural basis in the brain. Researchers have discovered a set of common changes in the brain upon learning a new skill. They have essentially detected a neural marker ...

Brain network decay detected in early Alzheimer's

August 19, 2013

In patients with early Alzheimer's disease, disruptions in brain networks emerge about the same time as chemical markers of the disease appear in the spinal fluid, researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in ...

What goes wrong in a brain affected by Alzheimer's disease?

August 22, 2013

The ability of different regions of the brain to communicate gradually breaks down with aging and in Alzheimer's disease, but there are key differences between these two processes. Some of these differences are reported in ...

Breakthrough discerns normal memory loss from disease

September 6, 2013

(Medical Xpress)—Cornell researchers have developed a reliable method to distinguish memory declines associated with healthy aging from the more-serious memory disorders years before obvious symptoms emerge. The method ...

Recommended for you

New insights on how cocaine changes the brain

November 25, 2015

The burst of energy and hyperactivity that comes with a cocaine high is a rather accurate reflection of what's going on in the brain of its users, finds a study published November 25 in Cell Reports. Through experiments conducted ...

Can physical exercise enhance long-term memory?

November 25, 2015

Exercise can enhance the development of new brain cells in the adult brain, a process called adult neurogenesis. These newborn brain cells play an important role in learning and memory. A new study has determined that mice ...

Umbilical cells help eye's neurons connect

November 24, 2015

Cells isolated from human umbilical cord tissue have been shown to produce molecules that help retinal neurons from the eyes of rats grow, connect and survive, according to Duke University researchers working with Janssen ...

Brain connections predict how well you can pay attention

November 24, 2015

During a 1959 television appearance, Jack Kerouac was asked how long it took him to write his novel On The Road. His response – three weeks – amazed the interviewer and ignited an enduring myth that the book was composed ...

No cable spaghetti in the brain

November 24, 2015

Our brain is a mysterious machine. Billions of nerve cells are connected such that they store information as efficiently as books are stored in a well-organized library. To this date, many details remain unclear, for instance ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.