Scientific Study Leverages Diffusion Tensor Imaging To Understand How Cognition Works In A Healthy Brain

In Education

Researchers from the University of Texas embarked on a mission to determine how a healthy brain affects cognition, and the study was also aimed at providing a clearer picture of what happens as the brain ages.

The researchers used an imaging technique called diffusion tensor imaging to understand the influences and effects of cognitive degradation in healthy subjects. The brain’s neural circuits start to wear down as the brain ages, which happens even in healthy individuals. The breakdown or wear of the neural circuits has negative impacts on cognition, and the study aims to help scientists better understand this process.

“We’re trying to figure out what’s breaking down in the brain that yields this cognitive decline as we get older, even if we’re healthy,” stated Dr. Kristen Kennedy, a psychology professor at the University of Texas.

What the researchers observed the brain

Dr. Christina Webb, the lead author of the study, stated that research has demonstrated that the brain’s ability to propagate strong signals affects higher-order processing and cognition. She noted that the brain structure affects its function, especially as humans grow older. The research revealed that aging particularly affects functions that occur in the white matter.

Dr. Kennedy also pointed out that the human brain boosts its activity when it faces a challenging task. She also added that the amount needed for that extra activity changes over time. The research revealed that the human brain’s output as far as activity is concerned when older is not as much as that of a younger brain. The lower efficiency of output as the brain ages is due to the degradation of white matter connections. 

Diffusion tensor imaging is used to determine the water diffusion directionality within the brain. According to Dr. Kennedy, if the water path is constrained, it indicates that there is faster processing of information. On the other hand, if the water’s diffusion level is high and the flow path is less constricted, then information flows at a slower rate, thus reducing the efficiency of communication between the neurons.

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