Original Research ARTICLE

Front. Aging Neurosci., 23 April 2014 | doi: 10.3389/fnagi.2014.00061

Physical activity reduces hippocampal atrophy in elders at genetic risk for Alzheimer's disease

  • 1Department of Kinesiology, School of Public Health, University of Maryland, College Park, MD, USA
  • 2Department of Psychology, Marquette University, Milwaukee, WI, USA
  • 3Department of Neurology, Medical College of Wisconsin, Milwaukee, WI, USA
  • 4Department of Psychology, Wayne State University, Detroit, MI, USA
  • 5Department of Psychology, Rosalind Franklin University of Medicine and Science, North Chicago, IL, USA
  • 6Cleveland Clinic, Schey Center for Cognitive Neuroimaging, Neurological Institute, Cleveland, OH, USA

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.

Keywords: cognitive aging, Alzheimer's disease, volumetric MRI, association studies in genetics, physical activity, exercise

Citation: Smith JC, Nielson KA, Woodard JL, Seidenberg M, Durgerian S, Hazlett KE, Figueroa CM, Kandah CC, Kay CD, Matthews MA and Rao SM (2014) Physical activity reduces hippocampal atrophy in elders at genetic risk for Alzheimer's disease. Front. Aging Neurosci. 6:61. doi: 10.3389/fnagi.2014.00061

Received: 22 January 2014; Accepted: 20 March 2014;
Published online: 23 April 2014.

Edited by:

Emil C. Toescu, Birmingham University, UK

Reviewed by:

José M. Delgado-García, University Pablo de Olavide, Seville, Spain
Diego Ruano, University of Sevilla, Spain
Kirk I. Erickson, University of Pittsburgh, USA

Copyright © 2014 Smith, Nielson, Woodard, Seidenberg, Durgerian, Hazlett, Figueroa, Kandah, Kay, Matthews and Rao. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

*Correspondence: Stephen M. Rao, Cleveland Clinic, Schey Center for Cognitive Neuroimaging, Neurological Institute, 9500 Euclid Ave./U10, Cleveland, OH 44195, USA e-mail: raos2@ccf.org

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