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Frontal-Striatal Functioning in Aging and Parkinson's Disease: The Role of Physical Activity

Weinstein, Andrea (2015) Frontal-Striatal Functioning in Aging and Parkinson's Disease: The Role of Physical Activity. Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Age-related cognitive decline is preceded by structural and functional brain changes in the hippocampus, prefrontal cortex, and striatum. The frontal-striatal system also degenerates in Parkinson’s disease (PD), underlying the cognitive symptoms that can accompany PD motor symptoms. Fortunately, physical activity is a promising approach to improve neurocognitive function. Human neuroimaging studies have focused on frontal-hippocampal circuitry, leaving associations between physical activity and striatal circuits largely unexplored. This dissertation examined whether exercise and cardiorespiratory fitness were associated with frontal-striatal functional connectivity and function in normal cognitive aging and PD. Experiment 1 examined frontal-striatal functional connectivity and cognition in a 12-month randomized clinical trial of aerobic exercise in neurologically healthy older adults. Participants were randomly assigned to either a walking (n = 41) or flexibility/toning/balance (FTB; n = 32) control group. Everyone underwent cognitive testing, MRI, and cardiorespiratory fitness assessments pre- and post-intervention. Functional correlations were examined between the caudate nucleus and frontal cortex. As predicted, the walking group had greater post-intervention functional connectivity between the right caudate and the right inferior/middle frontal gyrus than the FTB group [F(1,66) = 7.684, p = .01]. Interestingly, the FTB group had greater post-intervention left caudate connectivity in two regions: the superior frontal gyrus/medial wall [F(1,66) = 6.765, p = .01] and the right inferior/middle frontal gyrus [F(1,66) = 5.972, p = .02]. Experiment 2 examined cardiorespiratory fitness, executive function, and frontal-striatal functional connectivity in individuals with mild PD (n = 17). PD and control participants underwent neuropsychological evaluations, mobility assessments, VO2 submax testing, and MRI. Fitness was positively associated with cognition in PD patients (r = .668, p = .003). Sixteen frontal regions showed positive fitness-associated functional connectivity with the caudate; half of these positively related to cognition. These regions spanned the precentral gyrus, middle frontal gyrus, frontal pole, and orbitofrontal cortex. Taken together, these results indicate that engagement in physical activity may improve frontal-striatal communication and related cognitive performance in cognitively normal older adults. Further, higher fitness levels may mitigate some of the striatal deficits in PD. Future research is needed to determine whether exercise can impact the frontal-striatal cognitive system in PD.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Weinstein, Andreaandrea.weinstein@gmail.comAMW140
ContributionContributors NameEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairErickson, Kirkkiericks@pitt.eduKIERICKSUNSPECIFIED
Committee MemberManuck, Stephenmanuck@pitt.eduMANUCKUNSPECIFIED
Committee MemberMarsland, Annamarsland@pitt.eduMARSLANDUNSPECIFIED
Committee MemberGianaros, Petergianaros@pitt.eduGIANAROSUNSPECIFIED
Committee MemberCameron, Judyjcameron@pitt.eduJCAMERONUNSPECIFIED
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee ChairErickson,
Committee MemberManuck,
Committee MemberMarsland,
Committee MemberGianaros,
Committee MemberCameron,
Date: 17 June 2015
Date Type: Submission
Defense Date: 17 June 2015
Approval Date: 3 October 2016
Submission Date: 2 August 2016
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 145
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Psychology
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: No
Uncontrolled Keywords: exercise, "aerobic fitness", aging, "Parkinson's disease", cognition, "basal ganglia"
Date Deposited: 03 Oct 2016 19:56
Last Modified: 09 Mar 2019 12:11


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