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Intracranial capacity and brain volumes are associated with cognition in healthy elderly men

Author(s): A. M. J. MacLullich, K. J. Ferguson, I. J. Deary, J. R. Seckl, J. M. Starr, J. M. Wardlaw

Background: Brain size and intracranial capacity are correlated with cognitive performance in young healthy adults, but data are lacking on these relationships in older healthy adults. Objective: To test the hypotheses that intracranial capacity, volumes of specific brain regions, and a measure of the shared variance between brain regions are positively associated with cognitive function in a sample of healthy, unmedicated elderly men (n = 97; mean age 67.8, SD 1.3). Methods: Individuals underwent MRI, with measurements of intracranial area and volumetric measurements of hippocampi, temporal lobes, and frontal lobes. Cognitive testing included measures of premorbid intelligence, fluid intelligence, verbal memory, visuospatial memory, verbal fluency, and attention and processing speed. Results: Cognitive tests showed significant positive intercorrelations throughout, and regional brain volumes were also universally, significantly, and positively intercorrelated. Intracranial area and several regional brain volumes correlated with tests of premorbid and fluid intelligence and tests of visuospatial memory. Tests of verbal memory and verbal fluency did not correlate significantly with brain volumes. Structural equation modeling demonstrated that the relationships between specific cognitive tests and regional brain volumes could best be summarized by a significant positive relationship between a general brain size factor and a general cognitive factor, and not by associations between individual tests and particular brain regions. Conclusions: In healthy elderly men, there are significant relationships between multiple cognitive tests and both intracranial capacity and regional brain volumes. These relationships may be largely due to longstanding associations between general cognitive ability and overall brain size.

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ISBN: 0028-3878
Publication Year: 2002
Periodical: Neurology
Periodical Number: 2
Volume: 59
Pages: 169-174
Author Address: