The failure to find any effective treatment for Alzheimer?s disease (AD) despite over four decades of research underscores the critical need for new strategies to prevent or delay disease onset. The proposed investigation aims to examine mechanisms of risk and resilience to age-related cognitive decline by leveraging recent advances in cognitive neuroscience and a unique 60-year longitudinal prenatal cohort. The concept of reserve has been developed to account for the large individual differences in cognitive aging trajectories, with nascent understanding of potential modifiable determinants of reserve. However, fundamental questions remain regarding, for instance, the impact of education, cognitively stimulating activities in adulthood, or early childhood enrichment on reserve mechanisms and cognitive decline. Previous investigations have been hampered by a number of limitations, including the lack of: 1) prospective measures of early childhood cognition, needed to address critical issues of reverse causation plaguing this field; 2) indices of adult cognitive decline over a large time window; 3) measures of relevant sociobehavioral factors across the entire lifespan; and 4) economic and racial/ethnic diversity of study samples. This proposal addresses these limitations by extending our continued study of the Providence RI cohort of the US Collaborative Perinatal Project (CPP). The original CPP involved systematic data collection from pregnancy through age 7 years, including measures of three key early life factors thought to influence cognitive trajectories in later life: early childhood IQ, family SES, and childhood adversity. We conducted a comprehensive cognitive assessment of 720 members of this cohort at age 35. We propose to reassess these participants (now approaching age 60) with a detailed neuropsychological battery to examine cognitive decline over a 25-year period. We will also assess engagement in cognitively stimulating activities, physical activity, occupational complexity, income, and health status. Participants will provide biosamples for plasma beta-amyloid (A?) 42/40 ratio and apolipoprotein E (APOE) genotype, and will undergo structural and functional MRI, providing operationally-defined brain measures of reserve. Finally, we propose a novel conceptual framework linking lifespan factors to cognitive outcomes through distinct brain mechanisms. This framework drives our aims which are: (1) Determine the relative influence of educational attainment, early life, and adult lifestyle factors on cognitive level and decline in late middle-aged adults; (2) Determine the relative contributions of specific brain reserve mechanisms to cognitive decline; and (3) Identify major determinants of brain reserve mechanisms in later life. A projected doubling of the elderly population by 2050 will place tremendous AD-related burden on the U.S. healthcare system. By providing novel insights into mechanisms of risk and resilience, findings may lead to new strategies to significantly reduce this burden by delaying cognitive decline and the onset of Alzheimer?s Disease.

Public Health Relevance

A projected doubling of the elderly population by 2050 will dramatically increase the incidence of cognitive impairments associated with Alzheimer?s disease (AD), resulting in tremendous social and economic burdens. Advances in therapeutic or preventive strategies leading to even modest delays in onset and progression could significantly reduce this burden, especially as no real effective treatment at either the clinical or preclinical stage of AD currently exists. The proposed research utilizes a unique 60-year longitudinal cohort to provide new insights into factors from early childhood to later adulthood that impact neurocognitive mechanisms of reserve which, in turn, may serve to both delay the onset of AD pathology and moderate the impact of AD pathology and other age-related brain changes on cognitive decline.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute on Aging (NIA)
Research Project (R01)
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Special Emphasis Panel (ZRG1)
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Stoeckel, Luke
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Brown University
Social Sciences
Schools of Arts and Sciences
United States
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