• The Center mourns the loss of a dear friend and tireless CVL supporter. click here

  • CVL councilmember and benefactor’s life remembered in the Dallas Morning here

  • Aging-themed issue of Nautilus Magazine explores cognitive benefits of learning a new game such as chess, cites here

  • ‘Fitizen’ group at the Jewish Community Center of Dallas learns about research at CVL. click here

  • CVL research published in JoN finds that some memories persist in the face of strong interference. click here

  • Dr. Sara Festini’s research probes busyness levels and cognitive here

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CVl Annual Review

CVl Annual Review

Charting Our Progress is CVL’s annual review, with archives available

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Lifespan Brain Study Adds Possible Clue in Predicting Alzheimer’s

Jan 22, 2019

New CVL research suggests that periodic evaluation of changing amyloid levels in certain brain structures may offer an important clue into who may be on a trajectory toward Alzheimer’s disease.

Deposits of a protein called amyloid in the brain are one of the earliest signs that an individual is at high risk for developing Alzheimer’s. The findings, published in the Nov. 6, 2018, issue of the journal Neurology, indicated that early changes in amyloid in posterior cortical regions of the brain were associated with subtle declines in episodic memory — one’s memory for events, times and places that are autobiographical in nature. Declines in this type of memory are known to be one of the first symptoms of Alzheimer’s.

The research was conducted as part of the Dallas Lifespan Brain Study (DLBS), initiated and led by Dr. Denise Park, director of research for UT Dallas’ Center for Vital Longevity, Distinguished University Chair in Behavioral and Brain Sciences, a UT Regents’ Research Scholar and senior author of the study. Lead author of the study was Dr. Michelle Farrell, who earned her doctorate at UT Dallas in 2017 before recently joining the Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital.

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Center for Vital Longevity Receives Over $5 Million for Aging Studies

Oct. 4, 2018

Researchers at the Center for Vital Longevity at The University of Texas at Dallas recently received three federal grants totaling more than $5 million to start new projects or continue existing studies on the cognitive neuroscience of aging.

“These recent awards are a very welcome addition to the federal funding held by the center,” said Dr. Michael Rugg, Distinguished Chair in Behavioral and Brain Sciences and center director. “They will support important and urgently needed research and are a testimony to the talents of my colleagues and to the high quality of their research programs.”

Dr. Denise Park, Distinguished University Chair in Behavioral and Brain Sciences and director of research and the founder of the center, was awarded $1.2 million from the National Institute on Aging (NIA) for an ongoing project aimed at determining whether individuals can slow the rate at which their minds and brains age. Park initiated the Synapse Project eight years ago with NIA funding.

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Study Suggests Ties Between Socioeconomic Status and Adult Brain

May 14, 2018

Research has shown that a developing child’s brain structure and function can be adversely affected when the child is raised in an environment lacking adequate education, nutrition and access to health care.

While the impact of such an environment on children is relatively well understood, a new study from The University of Texas at Dallas examines an effect that is not so clear — the relationship of socioeconomic status (SES) to brain function and anatomy in adults. The study, led by researchers at the Center for Vital Longevity at UT Dallas, found that the adult brain may actually be sensitive to social and economic factors.

“We know that socioeconomic status influences the structure of the brain in childhood and older age, but there’s been a gap in the research. We wanted to see if there were relationships between SES and the brain across a wider range of adulthood,” said Dr. Gagan Wig, assistant professor in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences at UT Dallas and corresponding author of the study published online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

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Subjective Memory Could Play a Predictive Role in Signaling Cognitive Decline

April 30, 2018

New research from the Center for Vital Longevity (CVL) at The University of Texas at Dallas suggests that subjective complaints about poor memory performance, especially in people over 60, could be a useful early marker for the onset of mild cognitive decline, which sometimes foreshadows Alzheimer’s disease.

Subjective memory is a person’s unscientific self-evaluation of how good his or her memory is, and whether, in that person’s opinion, there has been any worsening of memory through age. While some changes may be undetectable to others and are often too subtle to register on cognitive tests, the person subjectively believes that memory is slipping.

Published recently in Psychology and Aging, the research from Dr. Karen Rodrigue’s lab at CVL examined subjective memory complaints in nearly 200 healthy adults, ages 20 to 94. Previous studies suggest that subjective memory complaints are not necessarily indicative of cognitive decline, and may stem from underlying conditions such as anxiety and depression, which have been shown to impede memory.

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Brain Activity Study Offers Potential Insight into Alzheimer’s Disease

April 16, 2018

Slightly elevated beta-amyloid levels in the brain are associated with increased activity in certain brain regions, according to a new study from the Center for Vital Longevity (CVL) at The University of Texas at Dallas.

But that increase in activity might not be such a positive thing. The results indicate that the brains of these individuals may be working harder or recruiting more cognitive resources to complete tasks than those with lower levels of beta-amyloid, the main component of amyloid plaques, the study authors said.

The new research, published in the journal NeuroImage, offers a window into when these increasing levels of beta-amyloid, widely known as a risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease, might reach tipping points in the brain, when regions crucial to memory begin behaving differently. Such points might foreshadow important milestones in the disease process. …

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Scientists Get $15 Million in NIH Grants for Brain, Pain, Learning Studies

Dec. 14, 2017

Dr. Denise Park, director of research at the Center for Vital Longevity (CVL), received a five-year, $5.7 million grant from the NIH’s National Institute on Aging to extend the Dallas Lifespan Brain Study into a second decade. This project, which involves studying the same people over a prolonged period, will provide a window into how healthy brains transition into disease, and how early in the lifespan the markers of Alzheimer’s disease can be detected. The project also may yield information about what mechanisms underlie the maintenance of a healthy mind. The work is a collaboration between UT Dallas and UT Southwestern Medical Center researchers.

“We must study the same people for a prolonged period to understand how healthy brains maintain their resilience and vitality as well as how initially healthy brains transition to pathology,” said Park, who holds the Distinguished University Chair in Behavioral and Brain Sciences. “This third wave of data collection is perhaps the most exciting scientifically, as we will see clearly who has maintained cognitive function over a prolonged period, as well as those who are experiencing precipitous cognitive decline.”

Also at CVL, Dr. Kristen Kennedy, head of the Neuroimaging of Aging and Cognition Lab, was awarded more than $2.5 million from the National Institute on Aging to complete her work on the individual factors that influence brain structure, function and cognition over time …

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Study: Degraded Connections in the Brain Impairs Financial Ability

Sept. 14, 2017

A new study from the Center for Vital Longevity at The University of Texas at Dallas is among the first to investigate how degraded connections in certain parts of the adult brain might affect the ability to perform the financial calculations that are vital to everyday life among older adults.

The results, published in the most recent issue of the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, relied on imaging the white matter connections within the brain and measuring how intact the connections are. Researchers found a correlation between the integrity of white matter — the tracts that allow communication between different brain regions — and the ability to calculate finances.

“As we age, we tend to see a degradation of the connective fibers that wire the brain, much like a vacuum cleaner cord that has been run over too much with years of housecleaning,” said Dr. Kristen Kennedy, senior author of the paper and assistant professor at the center and the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences. “The insulation of the cord gets worn, and the electrical signal may not be conducted as well, or as rapidly. It’s a similar principle with conduction velocity across white matter brain connections.” …

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Study: More Amyloid in the Brain, More Cognitive Decline

June 15, 2017

A new study from the Center for Vital Longevity at The University of Texas at Dallas has found that the amount of amyloid plaques in a person’s brain predicts the rate at which his or her cognition will decline in the next four years.

The study, published in JAMA Neurology, used positron emission tomography (PET) scans to detect amyloid in 184 healthy middle-aged and older adults participating in the Dallas Lifespan Brain Study. Amyloid plaques, a sticky buildup that gradually gathers outside of neurons and is a hallmark of Alzheimer’s disease, are believed to start accumulating in the brain 10 to 20 years before the onset of dementia.

“We think it is critical to examine middle-aged adults to detect the earliest possible signs of Alzheimer’s disease, because it is becoming increasingly clear that early intervention will be the key to eventually preventing Alzheimer’s disease,” said Michelle Farrell, a Ph.D. student at the center and the lead author of the study …

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Scientists Aim to Identify the Neural Signature of Healthy Brain Aging

March 7, 2017

Younger people efficiently engage brain processes necessary to perform a task, while at the same time “shut down” processes irrelevant to the task, according to new research from the Center for Vital Longevity (CVL) at UT Dallas.

In addition, this ability to modulate, or control, brain activity appears compromised in older adults, said Dr. Kristen Kennedy, assistant professor at the center and the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences.

“To use a car analogy, the ‘neuroflexibility’ involved in pressing on the gas to meet a cognitive task, while simultaneously tapping on the brakes on anything that doesn’t help you get to the finish line of a task at hand, is one of the neural phenomena we’ve singled out,” said Kennedy, who led the research published in the February issue of NeuroImage.

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Cognitive Neuroscientists Connect & Present Findings at Conference

Feb. 28, 2017

About 250 cognitive neuroscientists recently converged at the Center for Vital Longevity’s fifth biennial Dallas Aging and Cognition Conference to discuss the latest developments in topics ranging from the biomarkers of aging and Alzheimer’s disease to the concept of cognitive reserve.

The conference, made possible with the support of the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences and the Office of the Provost, attracted scientists from more than 50 universities from across the globe and focused on four themes: “Neural Organization and Connectivity,” “The Biomarkers of Successful and Unsuccessful Aging,” “Cognitive Reserve,” and “Neural Stimulation, Cognitive Training and Enrichment.”

Dr. William Jagust of the University of California, Berkeley presented findings that suggest how the pairing of biomarkers such as amyloid plaque with studies of behavioral and neural changes can shed light on some cognitive changes that have previously been chalked up to normal aging but may reflect the early stages of Alzheimer’s or other forms of dementia.

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Study: Memories Can Resist Interference During New Learning

May 26, 2016

While acquiring new memories can enrich the human experience, they also can interfere with old ones and make them more likely to be forgotten — especially when a new event is highly similar to a past experience.

Postdoctoral scientist Dr. Josh Koen and Dr. Michael Rugg, director of the Center for Vital Longevity, addressed in a recent study how some memories persist in the face of strong interference. Koen and Rugg tested whether “reactivating,” or bringing to mind, old memories during the course of new learning increases or decreases the interfering effects of new learning. Their work was published in the April 13 edition of the Journal of Neuroscience.

The researchers found that reactivating generic contextual information about a previous experience, rather than details unique to a particular event, is important in resisting the interfering effects that accompany new learning.

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Mentoring Program Helps Kids Design Brain-Controlled Wheelchair

Apr. 14, 2016

Starting with some off-the-shelf transistors, motors and gyros, several seniors at Hillcrest High School are feverishly working in robotics teacher Tige Brown’s classroom long after most everyone else has gone home. They are racing to complete a wheelchair controlled by brain waves — a device that has been months in the making and will finally be featured Saturday at the Dallas Arboretum’s Earth Day celebration.

The students are part of UT Dallas’ Young Women in Science and Engineering Investigators program, which offers research and engineering experience to high school students with the aim of increasing their interest in science, technology, engineering and math. In its fourth year, the program is providing mentoring and support for more than 50 high school students from eight high schools across Dallas.

While holding the headset that directs the machine, Dr. Chandramallika Basak explains how the chair works: Brains emit electrical waves, and some of those waves, such as “alpha” and “beta” waves, are associated with cognition. The headset registers the waves and, through a computer program that the team has designed, classifies them and transmits signals via Bluetooth to steer the wheelchair.

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Study Finds Training with Unpredictability Improves Memory Recall

March 29, 2016

Memory training with unpredictable components could be more effective in enhancing episodic memory than training with predictable elements, according to new findings from UT Dallas researchers published in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.

Episodic memories are those associated with autobiographical events, such as a past birthday party or first trip to an amusement park. This type of memory is crucial to our ability to accurately retell stories.

Dr. Chandramallika Basak, assistant professor at UT Dallas’ Center for Vital Longevity (CVL), and graduate student Margaret O’Connell tested episodic memory in 46 adults between the ages of 60 and 86 at three different stages: before memory training, immediately after training and one and a half months after completing the training. Participants were separated into two groups — predictable training or unpredictable training — and did not differ in terms of education or cognitive abilities …

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Collaborative Minds Bringing Sounds to Brain Data in Yearlong Project

Feb. 12, 2016

Data from functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) have provided eye-popping pictures of the way the brain is wired, and allowed neuroscientists and laypeople alike to view intricate anatomical and functional connections between regions of the brain. But what if a new tool could be applied to MRI and other data, to listen to the way the brain works and how it is forged with connections?

An emerging effort to “sonify” imaging data is taking root at UT Dallas’ Center for Vital Longevity, in the lab of Dr. Gagan Wig. The approach, now funded by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), allows data to be represented by sounds from which a trained listener might be able to discern patterns of brain connectivity not readily seen in available visualization strategies.

Wig, an assistant professor in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, is working with his UT Dallas colleagues Dr. Roger Malina, Arts and Technology Distinguished Chair, Scot Gresham-Lancaster, assistant professor in the sound design program in the School of Arts, Technology, and Emerging Communication, and a mix of scientists, computer programmers and artists to translate data to sight and sound.

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Dallas Foundation Builds Bridge Between Supporters, University

Nov. 12, 2015

Study of the aging brain, pediatric hearing aids and social service to area families are among the UT Dallas efforts supported by recent grants through the University’s longtime partnership with the Dallas Foundation.

The foundation oversees more than 300 funds, assisting philanthropists in connecting with projects in education, research and other areas. Several million dollars in gifts through the foundation, representing the interests of its benefactors, have supported work across the University beginning in the 1960s.

The foundation’s AWARE fund has boosted research and treatment of the aging mind at the Center for Vital Longevity (CVL). Dr. Denise C. Park, director of research at CVL and Distinguished University Chair in Behavioral and Brain Sciences, will be receiving support for the Dallas Lifespan Brain Study. The study examines relationships among neural structure, brain function and cognition across the lifetime. Dr. Kristen Kennedy, also at CVL, received support to research genetic modifiers of how the brain changes with age and how this knowledge might be used to hold off cognitive decline.

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Scientists Find Link between Clear Memories, Brain Connectivity

Feb. 10, 2015

Research from the Center for Vital Longevity (CVL) at UT Dallas sheds new light on how memories are successfully recollected.

Using data from three independent experiments, the research identifies a set of regions in the brain that consistently showed increases in their connectivity with other regions as an event was being successfully recollected. The findings were published last month by the Journal of Neuroscience.

“These findings identify a new and potentially important brain signature of successful recollection,” said Dr. Michael D. Rugg, professor in the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences and co-director of the CVL. “They may have important implications for the understanding of memory impairment in a number of clinical conditions, as well as age-related memory decline.”

Successful recollection refers to when qualitative details of an event can be recalled, as opposed to familiarity- or gist-based recognition, which constitutes vague memories, such as feeling as if you’ve met someone before but not remembering where.

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Increased ‘Blurring’ of Brain Networks May Contribute to Poor Memory

Nov. 5, 2014

People may be inclined to think that poor memory is associated with a gradual disconnecting of the brain’s circuitry, but can too much connectivity in the brain actually play a role in worsening memory?

New research from the Center for Vital Longevity (CVL) at UT Dallas suggests it may.

The study, published this week in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, has found that the more connections forged between a brain’s sub-networks, the poorer a person’s memory was.

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Dr. Rodrigue Seeks to Identify Effect of Hypertension on Brain

Jan. 15, 2013

Dr. Karen Rodrigue, a new assistant professor in UT Dallas’ School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences (BBS) and the Center for Vital Longevity (CVL), wants to identify the key factors, both environmental and genetic, that impact the brain and cognition as we age.

Dr. Karen Rodrigue is particularly interested in knowing how such health factors as hypertension and diabetes contribute to brain aging and cognitive decline.

“Understanding the mechanisms and modifiers of healthy brain aging can help inform us not only about how to maintain good cognitive health, but also about what goes awry in conditions like Alzheimer’s disease and other age-related neurological disorders and the best options for treating them,” Rodrigue said.

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