The Heart-Mind Connection and Neurocognitive Diagnostics

Neurocognitive disorders in older adults represent a growing health crisis. Changes in brain chemistry are a normal part of healthy aging, but the difference between normal and potentially pathological neurochemical changes is not fully understood; and low-cost, noninvasive diagnostics that identify those who may progress to mild neurocognitive disorder (mNCD) do not currently exist. Once cognitive impairment reaches levels of clinical significance, treatment options are limited.

Eve D. De Rosa and Adam K. Anderson, Human Development, are examining the cholinergic basal forebrain—a portion of the brain that is crucial to both the autonomic nervous system and memory development—to establish possible connections between autonomic regulation of heart rate and cognitive performance. Cognitive changes may be difficult to directly observe or assess because of compensatory behaviors. The researchers propose that autonomic measures may be more revealing of underlying age-related changes to brain chemistry and anatomy.

This longitudinal, cross-species study will use parasympathetic influences on heart rate to assess neurocognitive aging in humans and rat models across the lifespan. Leveraging state-of-the-art technology at the Cornell Magnetic Resonance Imaging Facility (CMRIF), researchers will examine whether the basal forebrain supports a common regulatory capacity that underlies aging-related declines in both cognitive and autonomic control. The research may contribute to the development of a noninvasive, low-cost digital biomarker of neurocognitive aging that can identify those who may progress to mild neurocognitive disorder and ultimately develop Alzheimer’s disease.

NIH Award Number: 1R01AG066430-01

Cornell Researchers

Funding Received

$2.7 Million spanning 5 years