Researchers from the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California, Los Angeles, analyzed data from 1,629 participants in the Dallas Heart Study, aged 25 to 73, to investigate modifiable cardiovascular risk factors (alcohol consumption, smoking, diabetes, and obesity) associated with regional brain volume changes and their association with preclinical deficits in cognitive performance. Participants’ cardiovascular risk factors were evaluated in an initial baseline visit; brain volumes and cognitive function were assessed seven years later by, respectively, magnetic resonance imaging and the Montreal Cognitive Assessment (MoCA).
The results showed that alcohol consumption and diabetes were associated with smaller total brain volume, while smoking and obesity were associated with reduced volumes in the posterior cingulate cortex. Lower hippocampal volume was associated with previous alcohol consumption and smoking, and lower precuneus volume correlated with alcohol consumption, obesity, and high fasting blood glucose numbers.
Low total scores for MoCA were associated with reduced posterior cingulate volume in participants under 50 and with reduced hippocampal and precuneus volumes in those 50 and over.
“Our findings reveal that lower total brain, hippocampal, precuneus, and posterior cingulate volumes are associated with cardiovascular risk factors and with impaired cognitive performance before the onset of clinical dementia. … even in participants younger than 50 years,” the researchers noted. They concluded that subtle differences in regional brain volumes in midlife may serve as a biomarker for brain insult before the onset of dementia.
To read more about associations between brain volume and cognitive function, see the Psychiatric News article, “Study Provides New Details on How Brain Ages.”