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BrainHealth Research Demonstrates the Impact of Aging on Brain Function

Young male in casualwear and protective mask about to receive a scan in a large MRI machine.

Center for BrainHealth

Neuro-vascular coupling (NVC) is the connection between brain cells (neurons) and blood flow, which enables the brain to work and function properly. Oxygen and nutrients are delivered to the brain by blood vessels. Any interference between blood flow and the neurons results in reduced and/or inefficient brain function. While this imbalance is usually caused by head injury, new research from Center for BrainHealth at The University of Texas at Dallas suggests that the aging process also has damaging effects on NVC activity.The study, “Altered Linear Coupling Between Stimulus-evoked Blood Flow and Oxygen Metabolism in the Aging Human Brain,” was recently published in Cerebral Cortex by a team that included current BrainHealth researchers Monroe Turner, PhD, Dema Abdelkarim, Jeffrey Spence, PhD, and Bart Rypma, PhD.Researchers tested their hypothesis that aging has damaging effects on the underlying NVC system. Sixty participants, 33 younger and 27 older, were enrolled in the study. Calibrated functional magnetic resonance imaging (cfMRI) was used to measure age-related changes in cerebral blood flow (CBF) and oxygen metabolism during a breathing challenge, alternating between room air and a CO2 solution to measure the rate of oxygen consumption by the brain, followed by a series of visual stimulus tasks. As predicted, findings indicate notable differences between the two age groups: NVC measurements increased relative to visual stimulation in younger adults, but not in older adults. Principal investigator Bart Rypma, PhD, stated, “These results indicate that age-related changes interfere with the NVC system and that these changes significantly contribute to age-related decline in brain function. Our study design and clear results will help drive future research.”Research scientist Monroe Turner, PhD, added, “This research helps expand Center for BrainHealth’s pioneering science in brain health.” About Center for BrainHealthCenter for BrainHealth®, part of The University of Texas at Dallas, is a translational research institute committed to enhancing, preserving and restoring brain health across the lifespan. Major research areas include the use of functional and structural neuroimaging techniques to better understand the neurobiology supporting cognition and emotion in health and disease. This leading-edge scientific exploration is translated quickly into practical innovations to improve how people think, work and live, empowering people of all ages to unlock their brain potential. Translational innovations build on Strategic Memory Advanced Reasoning Tactics (SMART™), a proprietary methodology developed and tested by BrainHealth researchers and other teams over three decades.

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Bart Rypma, PhD

Principal Investigator Professor, Behavioral and Brain Sciences at UT Dallas Meadows Foundation Endowed Chair in Behavioral and Brain Sciences Director, Sammons BrainHealth Imaging Center

Jeffrey S. Spence, PhD

Director of Biostatistics


Related Information

Sammons BrainHealth Imaging Center

Located at Center for BrainHealth, the Sammons BrainHealth Imaging Center is a one-of-a-kind facility completely focused on human brain imaging to measure changes in brain health and function. The design and field strength are optimized for functional MRI (fMRI), providing crisp anatomical detail and a signal-to-noise ratio that reduces distortion to facilitate the acquisition and interpretation of data.