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Neuroscience. 2009 Nov 10;163(4):1102-8. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2009.07.030. Epub 2009 Jul 20.

Voxel-based morphometry reveals an association between aerobic capacity and grey matter density in the right anterior insula.

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Neuroimage Nord, Department of Systems Neuroscience, University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf, Martinistrasse 52, Hamburg, Germany.


This study investigated the effects of aerobic capacity on brain structure and memory performance. A sample of 33 healthy young subjects completed (i) assessment of aerobic capacity based on blood-lactate concentration, (ii) structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scanning and analysis of grey matter density using voxel-based morphometry (VBM) and (iii) a range of memory tests. Memory performance was not significantly associated with aerobic capacity. After adjusting for effects of age, gender and total intracranial volume, cortical grey matter density in the right anterior insula was strongly correlated with aerobic capacity. These findings are in line with studies implicating the insula in the cortical control of cardiovascular processes during both exercise and autonomic arousal. Interindividual differences in aerobic capacity are thus reflected in structural differences in brain regions involved in cardiovascular control, resembling structural changes associated with certain cognitive or motor skills.

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