Studying perception and memory in older people will improve understanding of dementias
UC Riverside received a $ 2 million grant from the National Institute of Aging to study how the brain’s main center of norepinephrine production regulates perception and memory in the elderly.
The findings could improve diagnostics and non-invasive treatments for dementias associated with old age or Parkinson’s disease. The project will be led by a professor of bioengineering Xiaoping Hu and professor of psychology Aaron Seitz.
The locus coeruleus is a region of the brain involved in physiological responses to stress and fear. It is the main producer in the brain of norepinephrine, a hormone that activates the body’s “fight or flight” response to frightening or stressful situations by increasing the heart rate, releasing glucose into the bloodstream and increasing blood pressure. blood flow to the muscles.
In the brain, norepinephrine acts as a neurotransmitter, transmitting messages between neurons to increase alertness and reaction time, and affect mood and the ability to concentrate. There is substantial evidence that the locus coeruleus circuit plays a central role in cognitive processes. Neuronal loss in the locus coeruleus is known to occur in neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias and Parkinson’s disease dementia.
Scientists believe that healthy neurons at the locus coeruleus preserve cognitive abilities during normal aging, but few studies have examined the differences between individuals to establish a baseline. The locus coeruleus is small and difficult to image, so most research to date has used pupil dilation as a surrogate measure of locus coeruleus activity.
They will conduct detailed psychophysical and magnetic resonance imaging studies on elderly people to understand how the structure and function of the locus coeruleus regulates behavior and how behavior, in turn, is mediated by activity in d. other brain regions known to be involved in perception and memory. Their efforts will enable them to use computational approaches to define individual differences in how the integrity of the locus coeruleus circuitry relates to different patterns of cognitive performance between tasks.
The team hopes their work can help explain how dysfunctional modulator circuits may cause cognitive decline or be involved in normal aging and age-related disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders. The results have the potential to support non-invasive methods to diagnose pathologies associated with locus coeruleus decline and to develop new treatments.