Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Journal: Frontiers in aging neuroscience


Older adults frequently complain that while they can hear a person talking, they cannot understand what is being said; this difficulty is exacerbated by background noise. Peripheral hearing loss cannot fully account for this age-related decline in speech-in-noise ability, as declines in central processing also contribute to this problem. Given that musicians have enhanced speech-in-noise perception, we aimed to define the effects of musical experience on subcortical responses to speech and speech-in-noise perception in middle-aged adults. Results reveal that musicians have enhanced neural encoding of speech in quiet and noisy settings. Enhancements include faster neural response timing, higher neural response consistency, more robust encoding of speech harmonics, and greater neural precision. Taken together, we suggest that musical experience provides perceptual benefits in an aging population by strengthening the underlying neural pathways necessary for the accurate representation of important temporal and spectral features of sound.

Concepts: Understanding, Middle age, Sense, Acoustics, Aging, Sound, Hearing, Music


Amylin (islet amyloid polypeptide) and amyloid-beta (Aβ) protein, which are deposited within pancreatic islets of diabetics and brains of Alzheimer’s patients respectively, share many biophysical and physiological properties. Emerging evidence indicates that the amylin receptor is a putative target receptor for the actions of human amylin and Aβ in the brain. The amylin receptor consists of the calcitonin receptor dimerized with a receptor activity-modifying protein and is widely distributed within central nervous system. Both amylin and Aβ directly activate this G protein-coupled receptor and trigger multiple common intracellular signal transduction pathways that can culminate in apoptotic cell death. Moreover, amylin receptor antagonists can block both the biological and neurotoxic effects of human amylin and Aβ. Amylin receptors thus appear to be involved in the pathophysiology of Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes, and could serve as a molecular link between the two conditions that are associated epidemiologically.

Concepts: Protein, Brain, Signal transduction, Insulin, Hormone, Islets of Langerhans, Glucagon, Amylin


This study examined the prevalence of co-morbid age-related eye disease and symptoms of depression and anxiety in late life, and the relative roles of visual function and disease in explaining symptoms of depression and anxiety. A community-based sample of 662 individuals aged over 70 years was recruited through the electoral roll. Vision was measured using a battery of tests including high and low contrast visual acuity, contrast sensitivity, motion sensitivity, stereoacuity, Useful Field of View, and visual fields. Depression and anxiety symptoms were measured using the Goldberg scales. The prevalence of self-reported eye disease [cataract, glaucoma, or age-related macular degeneration (AMD)] in the sample was 43.4%, with 7.7% reporting more than one form of ocular pathology. Of those with no eye disease, 3.7% had clinically significant depressive symptoms. This rate was 6.7% among cataract patients, 4.3% among those with glaucoma, and 10.5% for AMD. Generalized linear models adjusting for demographics, general health, treatment, and disability examined self-reported eye disease and visual function as correlates of depression and anxiety. Depressive symptoms were associated with cataract only, AMD, comorbid eye diseases and reduced low contrast visual acuity. Anxiety was significantly associated with self-reported cataract, and reduced low contrast visual acuity, motion sensitivity and contrast sensitivity. We found no evidence for elevated rates of depressive or anxiety symptoms associated with self-reported glaucoma. The results support previous findings of high rates of depression and anxiety in cataract and AMD, and in addition show that mood and anxiety are associated with objective measures of visual function independently of self-reported eye disease. The findings have implications for the assessment and treatment of mental health in the context of late-life visual impairment.

Concepts: Disease, Retina, Eye, Vision, Visual acuity, Ophthalmology, Mental disorder, Macular degeneration


Numerous studies have reported neuroprotective effects of pyruvate when given in systemic injections. Impaired glucose uptake and metabolism are found in Alzheimer’s disease (AD) and in AD mouse models. We tested whether dietary pyruvate supplementation is able to provide added energy supply to brain and thereby attenuate aging- or AD-related cognitive impairment. Mice received ~800 mg/kg/day Na-pyruvate in their chow for 2-6 months. In middle-aged wild-type mice and in 6.5-month-old APP/PS1 mice, pyruvate facilitated spatial learning and increased exploration of a novel odor. However, in passive avoidance task for fear memory, the treatment group was clearly impaired. Independent of age, long-term pyruvate increased explorative behavior, which likely explains the paradoxical impairment in passive avoidance. We also assessed pyruvate effects on body weight, muscle force, and endurance, and found no effects. Metabolic postmortem assays revealed increased energy compounds in nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy as well as increased brain glycogen storages in the pyruvate group. Pyruvate supplementation may counteract aging-related behavioral impairment, but its beneficial effect seems related to increased explorative activity rather than direct memory enhancement.

Concepts: Psychology, Brain, Metabolism, Muscle, Brain tumor, Nuclear magnetic resonance, Magnetic resonance imaging, In vivo magnetic resonance spectroscopy


The decline of cognitive skills throughout healthy or pathological aging can be slowed down by experiences which foster cognitive reserve (CR). Recently, some studies on Alzheimer’s disease have suggested that CR may be enhanced by life-long bilingualism. However, the evidence is inconsistent and largely based on retrospective approaches featuring several methodological weaknesses. Some studies demonstrated at least 4 years of delay in dementia symptoms, while others did not find such an effect. Moreover, various methodological aspects vary from study to study. The present paper addresses contradictory findings, identifies possible lurking variables, and outlines methodological alternatives thereof. First, we characterize possible confounding factors that may have influenced extant results. Our focus is on the criteria to establish bilingualism, differences in sample design, the instruments used to examine cognitive skills, and the role of variables known to modulate life-long cognition. Second, we propose that these limitations could be largely circumvented through experimental approaches. Proficiency in the non-native language can be successfully assessed by combining subjective and objective measures; confounding variables which have been distinctively associated with certain bilingual groups (e.g., alcoholism, sleep disorders) can be targeted through relevant instruments; and cognitive status might be better tapped via robust cognitive screenings and executive batteries. Moreover, future research should incorporate tasks yielding predictable patterns of contrastive performance between bilinguals and monolinguals. Crucially, these include instruments which reveal bilingual disadvantages in vocabulary, null effects in working memory, and advantages in inhibitory control and other executive functions. Finally, paradigms tapping proactive interference (which assess the disruptive effect of long-term memory on newly learned information) could also offer useful data, since this phenomenon seems to be better managed by bilinguals and it becomes conspicuous in early stages of dementia. Such considerations may shed light not just on the relationship between bilingualism and CR, but also on more general mechanisms of cognitive compensation.

Concepts: Alzheimer's disease, Cognition, Neurology, Memory, Dementia, Working memory, Executive functions, Multilingualism


During aging, sensorimotor, cognitive and physical performance decline, but can improve by training and exercise indicating that age-related changes are treatable. Dancing is increasingly used as an intervention because it combines many diverse features making it a promising neuroplasticity-inducing tool. We here investigated the effects of a 6-month dance class (1 h/week) on a group of healthy elderly individuals compared to a matched control group (CG). We performed a broad assessment covering cognition, intelligence, attention, reaction time, motor, tactile, and postural performance, as well as subjective well-being and cardio-respiratory performance. After 6 months, in the CG no changes, or further degradation of performance was found. In the dance group, beneficial effects were found for dance-related parameters such as posture and reaction times, but also for cognitive, tactile, motor performance, and subjective well-being. These effects developed without alterations in the cardio-respiratory performance. Correlation of baseline performance with the improvement following intervention revealed that those individuals, who benefitted most from the intervention, were those who showed the lowest performance prior to the intervention. Our findings corroborate previous observations that dancing evokes widespread positive effects. The pre-post design used in the present study implies that the efficacy of dance is most likely not based on a selection bias of particularly gifted individuals. The lack of changes of cardio-respiratory fitness indicates that even moderate levels of physical activity can in combination with rich sensorimotor, cognitive, social, and emotional challenges act to ameliorate a wide spectrum of age-related decline.

Concepts: Scientific method, Psychology, Cognitive psychology, Exercise, Cognition, Performance, Intelligence, Dance


We examined the impact of physical activity (PA) on longitudinal change in hippocampal volume in cognitively intact older adults at varying genetic risk for the sporadic form of Alzheimer’s disease (AD). Hippocampal volume was measured from structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans administered at baseline and at an 18-month follow-up in 97 healthy, cognitively intact older adults. Participants were classified as High or Low PA based on a self-report questionnaire of frequency and intensity of exercise. Risk status was defined by the presence or absence of the apolipoprotein E-epsilon 4 (APOE-ε4) allele. Four subgroups were studied: Low Risk/High PA (n = 24), Low Risk/Low PA (n = 34), High Risk/High PA (n = 22), and High Risk/Low PA (n = 17). Over the 18 month follow-up interval, hippocampal volume decreased by 3% in the High Risk/Low PA group, but remained stable in the three remaining groups. No main effects or interactions between genetic risk and PA were observed in control brain regions, including the caudate, amygdala, thalamus, pre-central gyrus, caudal middle frontal gyrus, cortical white matter (WM), and total gray matter (GM). These findings suggest that PA may help to preserve hippocampal volume in individuals at increased genetic risk for AD. The protective effects of PA on hippocampal atrophy were not observed in individuals at low risk for AD. These data suggest that individuals at genetic risk for AD should be targeted for increased levels of PA as a means of reducing atrophy in a brain region critical for the formation of episodic memories.

Concepts: Neuroanatomy, Brain, Magnetic resonance imaging, Cerebral cortex, Memory, Cerebrum, Hippocampus, Semantic memory


In animal models, the incretin hormone GLP-1 affects Alzheimer’s disease (AD). We hypothesized that treatment with GLP-1 or an analog of GLP-1 would prevent accumulation of Aβ and raise, or prevent decline of, glucose metabolism (CMRglc) in AD. In this 26-week trial, we randomized 38 patients with AD to treatment with the GLP-1 analog liraglutide (n = 18), or placebo (n = 20). We measured Aβ load in brain with tracer [(11)C]PIB (PIB), CMRglc with [(18)F]FDG (FDG), and cognition with the WMS-IV scale ( NCT01469351). The PIB binding increased significantly in temporal lobe in placebo and treatment patients (both P = 0.04), and in occipital lobe in treatment patients (P = 0.04). Regional and global increases of PIB retention did not differ between the groups (P ≥ 0.38). In placebo treated patients CMRglc declined in all regions, significantly so by the following means in precuneus (P = 0.009, 3.2 μmol/hg/min, 95% CI: 5.45; 0.92), and in parietal (P = 0.04, 2.1 μmol/hg/min, 95% CI: 4.21; 0.081), temporal (P = 0.046, 1.54 μmol/hg/min, 95% CI: 3.05; 0.030), and occipital (P = 0.009, 2.10 μmol/hg/min, 95% CI: 3.61; 0.59) lobes, and in cerebellum (P = 0.04, 1.54 μmol/hg/min, 95% CI: 3.01; 0.064). In contrast, the GLP-1 analog treatment caused a numerical but insignificant increase of CMRglc after 6 months. Cognitive scores did not change. We conclude that the GLP-1 analog treatment prevented the decline of CMRglc that signifies cognitive impairment, synaptic dysfunction, and disease evolution. We draw no firm conclusions from the Aβ load or cognition measures, for which the study was underpowered.

Concepts: Clinical trial, Human brain, Temporal lobe, Cerebrum, Snake scales, Face perception, Lobes of the brain, Liraglutide


The literature examining the relationship between cardiorespiratory fitness and the brain in older adults has increased rapidly, with 30 of 34 studies published since 2008. Here we review cross-sectional and exercise intervention studies in older adults examining the relationship between cardiorespiratory fitness and brain structure and function, typically assessed using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). Studies of patients with Alzheimer’s disease are discussed when available. The structural MRI studies revealed a consistent positive relationship between cardiorespiratory fitness and brain volume in cortical regions including anterior cingulate, lateral prefrontal, and lateral parietal cortex. Support for a positive relationship between cardiorespiratory fitness and medial temporal lobe volume was less consistent, although evident when a region-of-interest approach was implemented. In fMRI studies, cardiorespiratory fitness in older adults was associated with activation in similar regions as those identified in the structural studies, including anterior cingulate, lateral prefrontal, and lateral parietal cortex, despite heterogeneity among the functional tasks implemented. This comprehensive review highlights the overlap in brain regions showing a positive relationship with cardiorespiratory fitness in both structural and functional imaging modalities. The findings suggest that aerobic exercise and cardiorespiratory fitness contribute to healthy brain aging, although additional studies in Alzheimer’s disease are needed.

Concepts: Central nervous system, Brain, Magnetic resonance imaging, Cerebral cortex, Temporal lobe, Cerebrum, Hippocampus, Frontal lobe


Human and experimental studies have revealed putative neuroprotective and pro-cognitive effects of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (n-3 PUFA) in aging, evidencing positive correlations between peripheral n-3 PUFA levels and regional grey matter (GM) volume, as well as negative correlations between dietary n-3 PUFA levels and cognitive deficits. We recently showed that n-3 PUFA supplemented aged mice exhibit better hippocampal-dependent mnesic functions, along with enhanced cellular plasticity and reduced neurodegeneration, thus supporting a role of n-3 PUFA supplementation in preventing cognitive decline during aging. To corroborate these initial results and develop new evidence on the effects of n-3 PUFA supplementation on brain substrates at macro-scale level, here we expanded behavioral analyses to the emotional domain (anxiety and coping skills), and carried out a fine-grained regional GM volumetric mapping by using high-resolution MRI-based voxel-based morphometry. The behavioral effects of 8 week n-3 PUFA supplementation were measured on cognitive (discriminative, spatial and social) and emotional (anxiety and coping) abilities of aged (19 month-old at the onset of study) C57B6/J mice. n-3 PUFA supplemented mice showed better mnesic performances as well as increased active coping skills. Importantly, these effects were associated with enlarged regional hippocampal, retrosplenial and prefrontal GM volumes, and with increased post mortem n-3 PUFA brain levels. These findings indicate that increased dietary n-3 PUFA intake in normal aging can improve fronto-hippocampal GM structure and function, an effect present also when the supplementation starts at late age. Our data are consistent with a protective role of n-3 PUFA supplementation in counteracting cognitive decline, emotional dysfunctions and brain atrophy.

Concepts: Nutrition, Fatty acid, Fatty acids, Essential fatty acid, Omega-3 fatty acid, Unsaturated fat, Eicosapentaenoic acid, Omega-9 fatty acid