What is it about?

In middle-aged adults with cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure, we found that connectivity of brain regions involved in inhibiting automatic verbal responses affected the relationship between very small regions of damage known as white matter hyperintensities, and cognition.

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Why is it important?

These results support the idea that following disruption to white matter tracts in the brain, network connectivity may be re-organized. We also think that this reorganization might happen early on, before a noticeable change in cognition or health. Cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure increase people’s risks for white matter hyperintensities and cognitive decline or dementia later in life. Structural brain changes such as these tend to be permanent, but other potentially reversible brain changes are also associated with cognition and cardiovascular risk factors. These functional changes involve the coordinated activity of brain regions that work together to perform a function, known as functional connectivity. One important cognitive function that we all use every day is called executive function. This includes things like working memory and inhibiting or controlling behavior. We confirmed previous work that showed the relationships between blood pressure, white matter hyperintensities, and executive function, and extended it to our more detailed measure of blood pressure over 30 years. We then found that the functional connectivity of the brain network involved in executive function affected the relationship between white matter hyperintensities and executive function on a pencil and paper test.

Perspectives

Ours is the first study to show that the relationship between white matter hyperintensities and executive function is mediated by functional connectivity of a brain network involved in executive control.

Lisanne Jenkins
Northwestern University

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This page is a summary of: Blood pressure, executive function, and network connectivity in middle-aged adults at risk of dementia in late life, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, September 2021, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, DOI: 10.1073/pnas.2024265118.
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