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Neuroimage. 2010 Oct 1;52(4):1667-76. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2010.05.041. Epub 2010 May 24.

Effects of memory training on cortical thickness in the elderly.

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Institute of Basic Medical Sciences, University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway.


The brain's ability to alter its functional and structural architecture in response to experience and learning has been extensively studied. Mental stimulation might serve as a reserve mechanism in brain aging, but macrostructural brain changes in response to cognitive training have been demonstrated in young participants only. We examined the short-term effects of an intensive memory training program on cognition and brain structure in middle-aged and elderly healthy volunteers. The memory trainers completed an 8-week training regimen aimed at improving verbal source memory utilizing the Method of Loci (MoL), while control participants did not receive any intervention. Both the memory trainers and the controls underwent magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans and memory testing pre and post 8 weeks of training or no training, respectively. Cortical thickness was automatically measured across the cortical mantle, and data processing and statistical analyses were optimized for reliable detection of longitudinal changes. The results showed that memory training improved source memory performance. Memory trainers also showed regional increases in cortical thickness compared with controls. Furthermore, thickness change in the right fusiform and lateral orbitofrontal cortex correlated positively with improvement in source memory performance, suggesting a possible functional significance of the structural changes. These findings demonstrate that systematic mental exercise may induce short-term structural changes in the aging human brain, indicating structural brain plasticity in elderly. The present study included short-term assessments, and follow-up studies are needed in order to assess whether such training indeed alters the long-term structural trajectories.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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