Impact of aging on brain connections mapped in major scan study

December 15, 2016

Brain connections that play a key role in complex thinking skills show the poorest health with advancing age, new research suggests.

Connections supporting functions such as movement and hearing are relatively well preserved in later life, the findings show.

Scientists carrying out the most comprehensive study to date on ageing and the brain's connections charted subtle ways in which the brain's connections weaken with age.

Knowing how and where connections between brain cells - so-called white matter - decline as we age is important in understanding why some people's brains and thinking skills age better than others.

Worsening brain connections as we age contribute to a decline in thinking skills, such as reasoning, memory and speed of thinking.

Researchers from the University of Edinburgh analysed brain scans from more than 3,500 people aged between 45 and 75 taking part in the UK Biobank study.

Researchers say the data will provide more valuable insights into healthy brain and mental ageing, as well as making contributions to understanding a range of diseases and conditions.

The study was published in Nature Communications journal.

Dr Simon Cox, of the University of Edinburgh's Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology (CCACE), who led the study, said: "By precisely mapping which connections of the brain are most sensitive to age, and comparing different ways of measuring them, we hope to provide a reference point for future brain research in health and disease.

"This is only one of the first of many exciting brain imaging results still to come from this important national health resource."

Professor Ian Deary, Director of CCACE, said: "Until recently, studies of brain scans with this number of people were not possible. Day by day the UK Biobank sample grows, and this will make it possible to look carefully at the environmental and genetic factors that are associated with more or less healthy brains in older age."

Professor Paul Matthews of Imperial College London, Chair of the UK Biobank Expert Working Group, who was not involved in the study, said: "This report provides an early example of the impact that early opening of the growing UK Biobank Imaging Enhancement database for access by researchers world-wide will have.

"The large numbers of subjects in the database has enabled the group to rapidly characterise the ways in which the brain changes with age - and to do so with the confidence that large numbers of observations allow.

"This study highlights the feasibility of defining what is typical, to inform the development of quantitative MRI measures for decision making in the clinic."
-end-
The University of Edinburgh Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology receives funding from the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).

UK Biobank was established by the Wellcome Trust, MRC, Department of Health, Scottish Government and the Northwest Regional Development Agency. It has had funding from the Welsh Assembly Government, British Heart Foundation and Diabetes UK. UK Biobank is hosted by the University of Manchester and supported by the NHS.

A video explanation of the research is available at: http://www.ccace.ed.ac.uk/news-events/latest

For further information, please contact: Joanne Morrison, Press and PR Office, tel +44 131 651 4266, email Joanne.Morrison@ed.ac.uk

University of Edinburgh

Related Brain Articles from Brightsurf:

Glioblastoma nanomedicine crosses into brain in mice, eradicates recurring brain cancer
A new synthetic protein nanoparticle capable of slipping past the nearly impermeable blood-brain barrier in mice could deliver cancer-killing drugs directly to malignant brain tumors, new research from the University of Michigan shows.

Children with asymptomatic brain bleeds as newborns show normal brain development at age 2
A study by UNC researchers finds that neurodevelopmental scores and gray matter volumes at age two years did not differ between children who had MRI-confirmed asymptomatic subdural hemorrhages when they were neonates, compared to children with no history of subdural hemorrhage.

New model of human brain 'conversations' could inform research on brain disease, cognition
A team of Indiana University neuroscientists has built a new model of human brain networks that sheds light on how the brain functions.

Human brain size gene triggers bigger brain in monkeys
Dresden and Japanese researchers show that a human-specific gene causes a larger neocortex in the common marmoset, a non-human primate.

Unique insight into development of the human brain: Model of the early embryonic brain
Stem cell researchers from the University of Copenhagen have designed a model of an early embryonic brain.

An optical brain-to-brain interface supports information exchange for locomotion control
Chinese researchers established an optical BtBI that supports rapid information transmission for precise locomotion control, thus providing a proof-of-principle demonstration of fast BtBI for real-time behavioral control.

Transplanting human nerve cells into a mouse brain reveals how they wire into brain circuits
A team of researchers led by Pierre Vanderhaeghen and Vincent Bonin (VIB-KU Leuven, Université libre de Bruxelles and NERF) showed how human nerve cells can develop at their own pace, and form highly precise connections with the surrounding mouse brain cells.

Brain scans reveal how the human brain compensates when one hemisphere is removed
Researchers studying six adults who had one of their brain hemispheres removed during childhood to reduce epileptic seizures found that the remaining half of the brain formed unusually strong connections between different functional brain networks, which potentially help the body to function as if the brain were intact.

Alcohol byproduct contributes to brain chemistry changes in specific brain regions
Study of mouse models provides clear implications for new targets to treat alcohol use disorder and fetal alcohol syndrome.

Scientists predict the areas of the brain to stimulate transitions between different brain states
Using a computer model of the brain, Gustavo Deco, director of the Center for Brain and Cognition, and Josephine Cruzat, a member of his team, together with a group of international collaborators, have developed an innovative method published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences on Sept.

Read More: Brain News and Brain Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.