Summary: People with Huntington’s disease who participated in intellectually stimulating activities had less brain atrophy than those with the disease who did not take up such activities.
Researchers from the Cognition and Brain Plasticity research group of the Bellvitge Biomedical Research Institute (IDIBELL) and the University of Barcelona (UB), in collaboration with several hospitals, have discovered that an intellectually active lifestyle confers protection against neurodegeneration in people with Huntington’s disease, delaying the onset of symptoms and loss of grey matter in the brain. The research, led by Dr. Estela Càmara and doctoral researcher Clara García Gorro, helps to understand the factors related to the differences in symptoms among patients with this disease and to decipher the cerebral mechanisms responsible for such differences.
The study, published in Neuropsychologia, shows how patients with Huntington’s disease with greater cognitive activity throughout life obtain better scores in neuropsychological tests. “These patients showed a delay in the appearance of the first symptoms of the disease and a lower level of atrophy in an area of the brain especially affected in this disease, which is called the caudate nucleus”, explains Clara García Gorro.
In order to assess intellectual activity throughout life, the educational level, the type of professional occupation, the number of languages, the reading activity and the frequency with which participants played games such as chess were taken into account, among other factors.
These results suggest that greater mental activity somehow protects the brain from neurodegenerative processes, keeping it in good condition for an extended period of time. “Therefore, this discovery emphasizes the importance of cognitive interventions in neurodegenerative diseases, as well as leading a cognitively stimulating life to maintain a healthy brain”, adds Dr Càmara.
Huntington’s disease is a neurodegenerative disease of genetic origin for which there is currently no cure. Its main symptoms include motor, cognitive and psychiatric problems. The average age of onset of the first symptoms is around 40 years, being a progressive disease in which the symptoms gradually worsen.
Source: Gemma Fornons – IDIBELL
Publisher: Organized by NeuroscienceNews.com.
Image Source: NeuroscienceNews.com image is in the public domain.
Original Research: Open access research for “An active cognitive lifestyle as a potential neuroprotective factor in Huntington’s disease” by Clara Garcia-Gorro, Maria Garau-Rolandi, Anira Escrichs, Nadia Rodriguez-Dechicha, Irene Vaquer, Susana Subira, Matilde Calopa, Saul Martinez-Horta, Jesus Perez-Perez, Jaime Kulisevsky, Esteban Muñoz, Pilar Santacruz, Jesus Ruiz-Idiago, Celia Mareca, Ruthde Diego-Balaguer, and Estela Camara in Neuropsychologia. Published October 26 2018.
An active cognitive lifestyle as a potential neuroprotective factor in Huntington’s disease
A cognitive stimulating lifestyle has been observed to confer cognitive benefits in multiple neurodegenerative diseases. However, the underlying neurobiological basis of this phenomenon remains unclear. Huntington’s disease can provide a suitable model to study the effects and neural mechanisms of cognitive engagement in neurodegeneration. In this study, we investigate the effect of lifestyle factors such as education, occupation and engagement in cognitive activities in Huntington’s disease gene carriers on cognitive performance and age of onset as well as the underlying neural changes sustaining these effects, measured by magnetic resonance imaging. Specifically, we analyzed both gray matter volume and the strength of connectivity of the executive control resting-state network. High levels of cognitive engagement were significantly associated with more preserved executive functions, a delay in the appearance of symptoms, reduced volume loss of the left precuneus and the bilateral caudate and a modulation of connectivity strength of anterior cingulate cortex and left angular gyrus with the executive control network. These findings suggest that a cognitively stimulating lifestyle may promote brain maintenance by modulating the executive control resting-state network and conferring protection against neurodegeneration, which results in a delayed onset of symptoms and improved performance in executive functions.