New research suggests connection between white matter and cognitive health

April 7, 2014
brain

A multidisciplinary group of scientists from the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging at the University of Kentucky have identified an interesting connection between the health of the brain tissue that supports cognitive functioning and the presence of dementia in adults with Down syndrome.

Published in the Neurobiology of Aging, the study, which focused on detecting changes in the white matter connections of the brain, offers tantalizing potential for the identification of biomarkers connected to the development of , including Alzheimer's disease.

"We used to compare the health of the brain's white matter and how strongly it connects different parts of the brain," explains Elizabeth Head, Ph.D., the study's senior author. "The results indicate a compelling progression of deterioration in the integrity of white matter in the brains of our study participants commensurate with their cognitive health."

Research team member David Powell, PhD, compared the brain scans of three groups of volunteers: persons with Down syndrome but no dementia, persons with Down syndrome and dementia, and a healthy control group.

Using MRI technologies, of subjects with Down syndrome showed some compromise in the tissues of brain's compared to those from the control group. When people with Down syndrome and dementia were compared to people with Down syndrome without dementia, those same white matter connections were even less healthy.

Perhaps the most intriguing aspect of the study was the correlation between the cognitive abilities of participants with Down Syndrome and the integrity of their white matter– those who had higher motor skill coordination and better learning and memory ability had healthier frontal white matter connections.

Persons with Down syndrome are at an extremely high risk for developing Alzheimer's disease after the age of 40. The team hopes their work might eventually lead to the identification of biomarkers for the development of Alzheimer's disease in people with Down syndrome and, potentially, extend that to the general population as well.

Head cautions that these results are to some extent exploratory due to the small cohort of 30 participants. But, she says, "If we are able to identify people who, based on biomarkers, have a higher risk of developing Alzheimer's disease, we might be able to intervene at an earlier point to retard the progression of the disease."

Explore further: UCI study reveals why Down syndrome boosts susceptibility to other conditions

Related Stories

How does fitness affect the aging brain?

April 1, 2014

We all know that exercise is good for us—it can help us lower blood pressure and cholesterol, maintain a healthy weight, and even improve mood and sleep. But can exercise improve the brain, especially as we age?

Recommended for you

Visual pigment rhodopsin forms two-molecule complexes in vivo

July 25, 2016

The study of rhodopsin—the molecule that allows the eye to detect dim light—has a long and well-recognized history of more than 100 years. Nevertheless, there is still controversy about the structure in which the molecule ...

Scientists show how memories are linked in the brain

July 22, 2016

Some memories just seem to go together. Think about an important experience in your life. You may also closely remember another experience that happened around that time too, like exchanging vows at your wedding, and then ...

Novel compounds arrested epilepsy development in mice

July 22, 2016

A team led by Nicolas Bazan, MD, PhD, Boyd Professor and Director of LSU Health New Orleans' Neuroscience Center of Excellence, has developed neuroprotective compounds that may prevent the development of epilepsy. The findings ...

0 comments

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.