Neural mechanisms of brain plasticity with complex cognitive training in healthy seniors

Sandra B. Chapman, Sina Aslan, Jeffrey S. Spence, John J. Hart, Elizabeth K. Bartz, Nyaz Didehbani, Molly W. Keebler, Claire M. Gardner, Jeremy F. Strain, Laura F. Defina, Hanzhang Lu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

183 Scopus citations


Complex mental activity induces improvements in cognition, brain function, and structure in animals and young adults. It is not clear to what extent the aging brain is capable of such plasticity. This study expands previous evidence of generalized cognitive gains after mental training in healthy seniors. Using 3 MRI-based measurements, that is, arterial spin labeling MRI, functional connectivity, and diffusion tensor imaging, we examined brain changes across 3 time points pre, mid, and post training (12 weeks) in a randomized sample (n = 37) who received cognitive training versus a control group. We found significant training-related brain state changes at rest; specifically, 1) increases in global and regional cerebral blood flow (CBF), particularly in the default mode network and the central executive network, 2) greater connectivity in these same networks, and 3) increased white matter integrity in the left uncinate demonstrated by an increase in fractional anisotropy. Improvements in cognition were identified along with significant CBF correlates of the cognitive gains. We propose that cognitive training enhances resting-state neural activity and connectivity, increasing the blood supply to these regions via neurovascular coupling. These convergent results provide preliminary evidence that neural plasticity can be harnessed to mitigate brain losses with cognitive training in seniors.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)396-405
Number of pages10
JournalCerebral Cortex
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2015


  • CBF
  • MRI
  • aging
  • brain plasticity
  • cognitive training


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