Tracking brain health through life

White women in colorful tops, black pants exercising on yoga mats.

What goes on with our brains as we age?

The Minnesota Women’s Healthy Brain Aging Project asked that question in 2010. Since then, more than 250 women in good cognitive health have signed up for the study, which uses state-of-the-art brain imaging coupled with information about physical and mental health, lifestyle information such as diet and physical activity, and genetics to determine how the brain adapts with age to maintain resilience and healthy cognitive functioning.

Women are studied from early adulthood through advanced old age.

“The goal is to create a comprehensive databank that will provide information by which to characterize brain status, assess changes over time, and associate them with genomic makeup, cognitive function, and language ability,” says study creator Apostolos Georgopoulos, a Regents Professor in the Department of Neuroscience.

Among the early findings, the researchers have just published evidence that those who lacked a specific “protective” form of a particular gene involved with the immune system underwent significantly greater loss of the gray matter in their brains as they aged than did those whose genomes included the protective form of the gene. 

“Ultimately, we seek to be able to forecast the trajectory of brain health status and, possibly, recommend interventions to maximize brain health,” says project director Lisa James, an associate professor of neuroscience and Kunin Professor in Women’s Healthy Brain Aging.

The project is housed at the Brain Sciences Center of the Minneapolis VA Medical Center and is being conducted through the University of Minnesota and the Minneapolis Veterans Affairs Health Care System.

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