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A Role of the Parasympathetic Nervous System in Cognitive Training

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Background: Vision-based speed of processing (VSOP) training can result in broad cognitive improvements in older adults with amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI). What remains unknown, however, is what neurophysiological mechanisms account for the observed training effect. Much of the work in this area has focused on the central nervous system, neglecting the fact that the peripheral system can contributes to changes of the central nervous system and vice versa.

Objective: We examined the prospective relationship between an adaptive parasympathetic nervous system response to cognitive stimuli and VSOP training-induced plasticity.

Method: Twenty-one participants with aMCI (10 for VSOP training, and 11 for mental leisure activities (MLA) control) were enrolled. We assessed high-frequency heart rate variability (HF-HRV) during training sessions, and striatum-related neural networks and cognition at baseline and post-training.

Results: Compared to MLA, the VSOP group showed a significant U-shaped pattern of HF-HRV response during training, as well as decreases in connectivity strength between bilateral striatal and prefrontal regions. These two effects were associated with training-induced improvements in both the trained (attention and processing speed) and transferred (working memory) cognitive domains.

Conclusion: This work provides novel support for interactions between the central and the peripheral nervous systems in relation to cognitive training, and motivates further studies to elucidate the causality of the observed link.

Keywords: Parasympathetic nervous system; amnestic mild cognitive impairment; cognitive training; processing speed; striatum; working memory

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: July 1, 2017

This article was made available online on May 30, 2017 as a Fast Track article with title: "A Role of the Parasympathetic Nervous System in Cognitive Training".

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  • Current Alzheimer Research publishes peer-reviewed frontier review and research articles on all areas of Alzheimer's disease. This multidisciplinary journal will help in understanding the neurobiology, genetics, pathogenesis, and treatment strategies of Alzheimer's disease. The journal publishes objective reviews written by experts and leaders actively engaged in research using cellular, molecular, and animal models. The journal also covers original articles on recent research in fast emerging areas of molecular diagnostics, brain imaging, drug development and discovery, and clinical aspects of Alzheimer's disease. Manuscripts are encouraged that relate to the synergistic mechanism of Alzheimer's disease with other dementia and neurodegenerative disorders. Book reviews, meeting reports and letters-to-the-editor are also published. The journal is essential reading for researchers, educators and physicians with interest in age-related dementia and Alzheimer's disease. Current Alzheimer Research provides a comprehensive 'bird's-eye view' of the current state of Alzheimer's research for neuroscientists, clinicians, health science planners, granting, caregivers and families of this devastating disease.
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