Study uses scans to identify contributing factors for brain aging

Researchers are relying on more than 60,000 brain computed tomography scans to investigate factors that cause the brain to age faster.

The study involved researchers from Amen Clinics, Google, Johns Hopkins University, the University of California-Los Angeles and the University of California-San Francisco. They used 62,454 brain images, from single photon emission computed tomography scans, involving more than 30,000 individuals, age 9 months to 105 years of age.

Results of the study, “Patterns of Regional Cerebral Blood Flow as a Function of Age Throughout the Lifespan,” were published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease.

SPECT imaging helps measure blood flows and researchers will be evaluating regional cerebral blood flow in the brain that may be effectively reduced in various disorders.

The study used brain SPECT imaging to determine aging trajectories in the brain and which common brain disorders predict abnormally accelerated aging. It examined the neuroimaging scans from a large multi-site psychiatric clinic from patients who had many different psychiatric disorders, including bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

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Researchers studied 128 brain regions to predict the chronological age of the patient—older age predicted from the scan, compared with the patient’s actual chronological age—was interpreted as accelerated aging. The study found that a number of brain disorders and behaviors predicted accelerated aging, especially schizophrenia, which showed an average of 4 years of premature aging; cannabis abuse (2.8 years of accelerated aging); bipolar disorder (1.6 years accelerated aging); ADHD (1.4 years accelerated aging); and alcohol abuse (0.6 years accelerated aging).

Interestingly, the researchers did not observe accelerated aging in depression and aging, which they hypothesize may be due to different types of brain patterns for these disorders.

“Based on one of the largest brain imaging studies ever done, we can now track common disorders and behaviors that prematurely age the brain,” says Daniel G. Amen, MD, founder of Amen Clinics, and lead author of the study. “Better treatment of these disorders can slow or even halt the process of brain aging. The cannabis abuse finding was especially important, as our culture is starting to see marijuana as an innocuous substance. This study should give us pause about it.”

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