• 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

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

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Washington University Neuroscientist Delivers Colloquium at CVL

DALLAS – March 7, 2016 – Remembering how to move and navigate efficiently through familiar places is a key ability that often erodes in older adults suffering from dementia, particularly Alzheimer’s Disease, where getting lost in once-known territory is a disturbing and debilitating hallmark symptom.

Dr. Denise Head, an associate professor of psychology from Washington University in St. Louis, delivered a science colloquium at the Center on Monday about the neural correlates of spatial navigation and the role that measuring navigation ability in new and familiar places could play in diagnosing pre-clinical Alzheimer’s.

Dr. Head’s lab at Washington University has been testing performadeniseheadphoto2-300x200nce among cognitively normal adults in wayfinding and route-learning challenges designed to gauge how brains that have greater levels of amyloid plaque – considered an Alzheimer’s biomarker – do in learning and recalling new environments. Her research suggests that brains that may be congested with amyloid yet not show symptoms of Alzheimer’s lean on different areas of the brain to cope with lost function, such as the ability to remember and navigate surroundings.

By measuring levels of the plaque with the imaging tracer Pittsburgh Compound B (PIB), Dr. Head and her colleagues were able to determine who among the individuals they are studying tended to engage in “hippocampal-dependent learning” versus “caudate-dependent learning,” comparing learning styles to  plaque levels in individual brains. In addition to spatial navigation, the hippocampus plays an important role in the consolidation of information from short-term memory to long-term memory (which can also fade with Alzheimer’s) whereas the caudate nucleus has long been associated with “stimulus-response” learning and more implicit, automatized processes – although there is recent evidence that the caudate might play a key role in other forms of memory.

Comparisons were made across three of Dr. Head’s groups: clinically normal without preclinical Alzheimer’s, clinically normal with preclinical Alzheimer’s, and early-stage symptomatic groups.
Results confirmed early-stage symptomatic Alzheimer’s-related deficits in the use of both hippocampal- and caudate-dependent strategies to learn and navigate an environment, in participants who were allowed to study a map beforehand, as part of a wayfinding strategy, and those who were allowed time to explore the testing area first as part of a route-learning strategy.

Developing a sensitive test for detecting declines in spatial navigation may identify early cognitive deficits in adults who are relying less on their hippocampus to navigate in the world and making less use of key landmarks to stay oriented – deficits especially evident if one is headed toward Alzheimer’s, her research suggests.