Fronto-temporal connectivity and memory: patterns of breakdown in ageing and diseases of old age

Lead Research Organisation: Cardiff University
Department Name: School of Medicine

Abstract

Loss of memory is one of the most devastating afflictions of later life yet we still know relatively little about the different causes of age-related memory decline. Recent studies in animals suggest that white matter connections (the wiring of the brain) between key structures involved in memory, are critically important, especially in rapid aging, Alzheimer‘s disease and vascular dementia. New developments in brain imaging - such as diffusion tensor MRI, which allows white matter fibres in the living brain to be traced, and functional neuroimaging, which reveals patterns of brain activity while performing cognitive tasks - provide the opportunity to explore the importance of these connections in memory, and how they may contribute to the different patterns of memory change seen in old age. This research project will apply these new techniques alongside novel tests of memory based on research in animals. One central challenge will be to test whether changes in connectivity hold the key to understanding the boundary between normal ageing and early Alzheimer‘s disease.

Technical Summary

Reducing the increasing financial burden of age-related cognitive decline is an important challenge facing modern society. Despite this, we have little understanding of how brain changes in old age affect particular aspects of cognitive function, and how to identify the boundary between benign forgetfulness and the earliest signs of a more progressive memory disorder, sometimes leading to dementia. White matter connections, particularly between the frontal and temporal lobes, are critically implicated in attention and memory, yet little research has addressed how these tracts support memory in healthy individuals and how they are affected in ageing and common diseases of old age such as Alzheimer‘s or cerebrovascular disease.

The fellowship will address this issue using a multi-disciplinary research programme aimed at:

1. Developing a better understanding of the importance of white matter connectivity in the genesis of memory deficits;
2. Studying alterations in brain connectivity in ageing and contrasting these patterns with degenerative and vascular conditions common in old age;
3. Mapping structural changes to function and in turn cognitive performance, contrasting the importance of key structures (e.g. hippocampus) and functional connectivity

Publications

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