The present theoretical framework of Alzheimers disease proposes that pathophysiological changes occur 10-20 years before the diagnosis of dementia. We addressed the question of how age-related changes in gray matter mediate the cognitive performance during middle age. Eighty-two participants (40-50 years, ±2) were assessed with a comprehensive neuropsychological battery covering a broad spectrum of cognitive domains and components. Mediation effects were studied with hierarchical regression and bootstrapping analysis. Results showed that more vulnerable cognitive components were related to executive functioning and in a lesser degree to processing speed. Age-related differences in gray matter mainly involved the frontal lobes. Moreover, age-related differences in visuoconstructive, visuospatial functions, reaction time, and mental flexibility and executive control were mediated by several gray matter regions. It is important to increase the knowledge of the impact of brain changes on cognitive function during middle age. To define the early stages of the aging process may allow early detection of pathologic changes and therapeutic interventions.
Friedreich ataxia (FRDA) is the most common hereditary ataxia. Since the discovery of the genetic cause of this disease, the phenotypic spectrum seems to be wider, including late-onset forms such as late-onset Friedreich ataxia--LOFA (25-39 years at onset). The neuropathological and clinical patterns in patients with LOFA are similar to those in patients with typical FRDA, but LOFA patients tend to have an overall milder, slowly evolving disease. Given the lack of data about cognitive performance of LOFA, we aimed to investigate whether differences in age at disease onset may be related also to differences at a cognitive level. Twenty-nine typical FRDA and seven LOFA patients were administered a comprehensive neuropsychological battery measuring multiple domains: processing speed, attention, working memory, executive functions, verbal and visual memory, visuoperceptive and visuospatial skills, visuoconstructive functions, and language. There were no significant differences in disease duration between the two groups of patients. Every patient group was matched in gender, age, years of education, and estimated IQ with a healthy-participant control group. Results indicate that both patient groups shared slowed motor processing speed and impaired conceptual thinking and verbal fluency. However, only typical FRDA patients showed a diminished cognitive processing speed and impaired visuoperceptive and visuoconstructive abilities. This pattern indicates that a later disease onset is associated to a milder cognitive impairment. Thus, our findings are in concordance with those related to clinical differences between typical FRDA and LOFA.
Friedreich ataxia (FRDA) is the most frequent of the inherited ataxias. However, very few studies have examined the cognitive status of patients with genetically defined FRDA. Our aim was to study cognitive performance of FRDA patients taking into account the motor problems characteristic of this clinical population. Thirty-six FRDA patients were administered a comprehensive neuropsychological battery measuring multiple domains: processing speed, attention, working memory, executive functions, verbal and visual memory, visuoperceptive and visuospatial skills, visuoconstructive functions, and language. Thirty-one gender, age, years of education, and estimated IQ-matched healthy participants served as control subjects. All participants were native Spanish speakers. Patients showed decreased motor and mental speed, problems in conceptual thinking, a diminished verbal fluency, deficits in acquisition of verbal information and use of semantic strategies in retrieval, visuoperceptive and visuoconstructive problems, and poor action naming. Scores on the depression inventory were significantly higher in patients than controls, but depression did not account for group differences in cognitive performance. The observed pattern of neuropsychological impairment is indicative of executive problems and parieto-temporal dysfunction. Neuropathological and neuroimaging studies with FRDA patients have reported only mild anomalies in cerebral hemispheres. Thus, cognitive impairment in FRDA is probably caused by the interruption of the cerebro-cerebellar circuits that have been proposed as the anatomical substrate of the cerebellar involvement in cognition.
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