Central adiposity and brain vulnerability in mid-life : evidence for early risk
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This set of projects focused on visceral fat, measured using proximal and direct methods. Specifically, I was interested in the effects of visceral fat on brain structure and integrity in middle age. Study 1 looked at waist to hip ratio (WHR) as a proximal measure of visceral fat and used statistical mediation to directly examine a possible mechanism behind the relationship between visceral fat and cognitive decline. Reductions in executive function seen in middle-aged adults with high visceral fat were found to occur in the context of lowered serum brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) a key neurotrophin involved in synaptic plasticity as well as neuronal regeneration. Study 2 utilized Dual Energy X Ray Absorptiometry (DXA) to directly estimate visceral fat mass and volume as well as thickness of the cortical mantle in middle age. High-resolution Magnetization Prepared Rapid Acquisition Gradient Echo (MPRAGE) images were used. High visceral fat was found to predict increased thickness in the posterior cingulate cortex independently of age and cardiovascular risk in a cognitively intact middle-aged sample. Study 3 examined changes in concentrations of crucial cerebral metabolites in the posterior cingulate cortex among individuals with high visceral fat. Results indicated that visceral fat predicted reduced concentrations of N Acetyl Asparate, a marker of neuronal viability and increased concentrations of myo-inositol, a glial marker that is implicated in a number of disease states including prodromal Alzheimer’s Disease and Multiple Sclerosis. Collectively, the 3 studies highlight important evidence for early brain vulnerability even in cognitively intact middle- aged adults with high levels of cognitive reserve. An important next step would be to examine modifiable mediators of these relationships, such as inflammation and BDNF so that targeted interventions may be developed.