Key Recent Publications from our Laboratory. For a complete list of Dr. Brianne Bettcher’s publications, click here.

Increases in a Pro-inflammatory Chemokine, MCP-1, Are Related to Decreases in Memory Over Time

In an asymptomatic aging adult cohort, longitudinal increases in MCP-1/CCL2 levels were associated with longitudinal decline in memory. Results suggest that “healthy aging” is typified by early remodeling of the immune system, and that the chemokine, MCP-1/CCL2, may be associated with negative memory outcomes.

Published in Frontiers of Aging Neuroscience. Link to full article.

Cerebrospinal Fluid and Plasma Levels of Inflammation Differentially Relate to CNS Markers of Alzheimer’s Disease Pathology and Neuronal Damage.

Inflammatory markers have been shown to predict neurocognitive outcomes in aging adults; however, the degree to which peripheral markers mirror the central nervous system remains unknown. We investigated the association between plasma and cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) markers of inflammation, and explored whether these markers independently predict CSF indicators of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) pathology or neuronal damage. Plasma and CSF samples were analyzed for inflammatory markers in a cohort of asymptomatic older adults (n = 173). CSF samples were analyzed for markers of AD pathology (Aβ42, phosphorylated tau [p-tau], sAβPPβ) or neuronal damage (total tau; neurofilament light chain) (n = 147). Separate linear models for each analyte were conducted with CSF and plasma levels entered simultaneously as predictors and markers of AD pathology or neuronal damage as outcome measures. Strong associations were noted between CSF and plasma MIP-1β levels, and modest associations were observed for remaining analytes. With respect to AD pathology, higher levels of plasma and CSF IL-8, CSF MIP-1β, and CSF IP-10 were associated with higher levels of p-tau. Higher levels of CSF IL-8 were associated with higher levels of CSF Aβ42. Higher CSF sAβPPβ levels were associated with higher plasma markers only (IL-8; MCP-1). In terms of neuronal injury, higher levels of plasma and CSF IL-8, CSF IP-10, and CSF MIP-1β were associated with higher levels of CSF total tau. Exploratory analyses indicated that CSF Aβ42 modifies the relationship between plasma inflammatory levels and CSF tau levels. Results suggest that both plasma and CSF inflammatory markers independently relay integral information about AD pathology and neuronal damage.

Published in Journal of Alzherimer’s Disease. Link to full article.

Association between Cholesterol Exposure and Neuropathological Findings: The ACT Study.

We characterized the relationship between late life cholesterol exposure and neuropathological outcomes in a community-based, older adult cohort. Adult Changes in Thought (ACT) is a cohort study that enrolls consenting, randomly selected, non-demented people aged ≥65 from a healthcare delivery system. We used late life HDL and total cholesterol lab values from Group Health computerized records, and calculated HDL and non-HDL levels. We evaluated neuropathological outcomes of Alzheimer’s disease, cerebral amyloid angiopathy, vascular brain injury, and Lewy body disease. Using linear mixed models with age and antilipemic medication as predictors, we obtained predicted cholesterol values at age 70 and 10 years prior to death for individuals with available cholesterol data in 10-year exposure windows. We used logistic regression to determine whether predicted late life cholesterol levels were associated with neuropathological outcomes controlling for age at death, APOE genotype, sex, and their interactions with cholesterol levels. 525 decedents came to autopsy by 08/2014. Of these, plasma cholesterol concentration was available for 318 (age 70, model 1) and 396 (10 years prior to death, model 2) participants. We did not find associations between late life cholesterol and Alzheimer’s disease neuropathological changes, and there were no associations between cholesterol levels and amyloid angiopathy or vascular brain injury. We observed an association between predicted non-HDL cholesterol at age 70 and Lewy body disease. Our study suggests an association between late life non-HDL cholesterol exposure and Lewy body disease. We did not observe associations between late life cholesterol levels and Braak stage or CERAD score.

Published in Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease. Link to full article.

MCP-1 and eotaxin-1 selectively and negatively associate with memory in MCI and Alzheimer’s disease dementia phenotypes.

MCP-1 and eotaxin-1 are encoded on chromosome 17 and have been shown to reduce hippocampal neurogenesis in mice. We investigated whether these chemokines selectively associate with memory in individuals with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and Alzheimer’s disease (AD) dementia. An interaction was noted between MCP-1 and eotaxin-1, such that deleterious associations with memory were seen when both chemokines were elevated. These associations remained significant after adding APOE genotype and comparison (non-chromosome 17) chemokines into the model. These chemokines predicted left medial temporal lobe volume and were not related to other cognitive domains. These results suggest a potentially selective role for MCP-1 and eotaxin-1 in memory dysfunction in the context of varied MCI and AD dementia phenotypes.

Published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia: Diagnosis, Assessment & Disease Monitoring. Link to full article.

Neuroanatomical substrates of executive functions: Beyond prefrontal structures.

Executive functions are often considered lynchpin “frontal lobe tasks”, despite accumulating evidence that a broad network of anterior and posterior brain structures supports them. Using a latent variable modelling approach, we assessed whether prefrontal grey matter volumes independently predict executive function performance when statistically differentiated from global atrophy and individual non-frontal lobar volume contributions. We further examined whether fronto-parietal white matter microstructure underlies and independently contributes to executive functions. We developed a latent variable model to decompose lobar grey matter volumes into a global grey matter factor and specific lobar volumes (i.e. prefrontal, parietal, temporal, occipital) that were independent of global grey matter. We then added mean fractional anisotropy (FA) for the superior longitudinal fasciculus (dorsal portion), corpus callosum, and cingulum bundle (dorsal portion) to models that included grey matter volumes related to cognitive variables in previous analyses. Results suggested that the 2-factor model (shifting/inhibition, updating/working memory) plus an information processing speed factor best explained our executive function data in a sample of 202 community dwelling older adults, and was selected as the base measurement model for further analyses. Global grey matter was related to the executive function and speed variables in all four lobar models, but independent contributions of the frontal lobes were not significant. In contrast, when assessing the effect of white matter microstructure, cingulum FA made significant independent contributions to all three executive function and speed variables and corpus callosum FA was independently related to shifting/inhibition and speed. Findings from the current study indicate that while prefrontal grey matter volumes are significantly associated with cognitive neuroscience measures of shifting/inhibition and working memory in healthy older adults, they do not independently predict executive function when statistically isolated from global atrophy and individual non-frontal lobar volume contributions. In contrast, better microstructure of fronto-parietal white matter, namely the corpus callosum and cingulum, continued to predict executive functions after accounting for global grey matter atrophy. These findings contribute to a growing literature suggesting that prefrontal contributions to executive functions cannot be viewed in isolation from more distributed grey and white matter effects in a healthy older adult cohort.

Published in Neuropsychologia. Link to full article.

Declines in inflammation predict greater white matter microstructure in older adults.

Protracted systemic inflammation has been associated with adverse effects on cognition and brain structure and may accelerate neurodegenerative disease processes; however, it is less clear whether changes in inflammation are associated with brain structure. We studied 276 black and white older adults (mean age = 83 years at time of imaging) enrolled in a prospective study of aging. Inflammation (measured with c-reactive protein, CRP) was assessed repeatedly over 6 years (i.e., year 2, 4, 6, and 8). Brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRIs) were obtained at years 10-11 with diffusion tensor imaging; regions of interest included late-myelinating areas vulnerable to aging, including frontal-parietal (superior longitudinal fasciculus [SLF]-dorsal) and temporal (SLF-temporal; uncinate) white matter tracts. Mean CRP values significantly declined (t = -5.54, p < 0.0001) over 6 years, and subject-specific slopes (best linear unbiased predictors of slopes) all showed a decline (mean = -0.57, standard deviation = 0.53) for our participant sample. More than 50% of study participants were still in the moderate to high cardiovascular risk range based on CRP values at year 8. After controlling for demographics, vascular risk factors and MRI white matter hyperintensities, larger decreases in CRP values over time were significantly associated with higher fractional anisotropy in the SLF-dorsal (beta = -0.0052, standard error [SE] = 0.003; 95% confidence interval [CI] = -0.0103 to -0.0025, p = 0.04), SLF-temporal (beta = -0.0109, SE = 0.004; 95% CI = -0.0189 to -0.0029, p = 0.008), and uncinate (beta = -0.0067, SE = 0.003; 95% CI = -0.0132 to -0.0001, p = 0.05) fasciculi. Results suggest that in a prospective cohort of older individuals, faster declines in inflammation over time are related to indicators of white matter health, even after accounting for vascular risk factors.

Published in Neurobiology of Aging. Link to full article.

Interleukin-6, age, and corpus callosum integrity.

The contribution of inflammation to deleterious aging outcomes is increasingly recognized; however, little is known about the complex relationship between interleukin-6 (IL-6) and brain structure, or how this association might change with increasing age. We examined the association between IL-6, white matter integrity, and cognition in 151 community dwelling older adults, and tested whether age moderated these associations. Blood levels of IL-6 and vascular risk (e.g., homocysteine), as well as health history information, were collected. Processing speed assessments were administered to assess cognitive functioning, and we employed tract-based spatial statistics to examine whole brain white matter and regions of interest. Given the association between inflammation, vascular risk, and corpus callosum (CC) integrity, fractional anisotropy (FA) of the genu, body, and splenium represented our primary dependent variables. Whole brain analysis revealed an inverse association between IL-6 and CC fractional anisotropy. Subsequent ROI linear regression and ridge regression analyses indicated that the magnitude of this effect increased with age; thus, older individuals with higher IL-6 levels displayed lower white matter integrity. Finally, higher IL-6 levels were related to worse processing speed; this association was moderated by age, and was not fully accounted for by CC volume. This study highlights that at older ages, the association between higher IL-6 levels and lower white matter integrity is more pronounced; furthermore, it underscores the important, albeit burgeoning role of inflammatory processes in cognitive aging trajectories.

Published in PLoS One. Link to full article.