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Human Brain Mapping Shows Neural Sign of Metabolic Syndrome

Brain Scans

A Texas State professor teamed up with researchers at the Research Imaging Institute at the University of Texas Health Science Center (at San Antonio) to use human brain mapping data to detail neural signs of metabolic syndrome, a disease that affects nearly 35 percent of Americans.

Dr. Larry Price, a Professor of Psychmetrics and Statistics (and the Director of Methodology, Measurement and Statistical Analysis) contributed to a 3-prong approach that forms the foundation of “A Neural Signature of Metabolic Syndrome,” published in the August issue of Human Brain Mapping.

“We linked brain-imaging information to physiological and neuropsychological measurements from our subjects”. The next step involved using Brain Map, a database housed at The University of Texas Research Imaging Institute in San Antonio containing over 52,000 studies.

The goal: to assess how gray matter in the brain is affected by metabolic syndrome, a disease characterized by elevated blood sugar levels, increased blood pressure, reduced cholesterol and a large waistline. In a project funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, Price and the Research Imaging Institute had access to a database that focused on one group both genetically and environmentally more at risk for metabolic syndrome: the Hispanic-American population. “We matched that (high risk) population with a healthy control group,” Price said. “We were able to statistically compare their metabolic syndrome variables, physiological and neuropsychological in a unified manner. In that way, it was a group comparison study instead of just looking at a group that is highly susceptible to this syndrome.”

Price and his peers secondarily examined an emerging link between metabolic syndrome and Alzheimer’s disease. That research contained a surprising element for Price. “Not all of the regions in the brain we looked at displayed a decrease in gray matter volume in relation to previous studies that had shown that might be the case for Alzheimer’s or dementia,” Price said. “But we need to do more research on this.”

A next project for Price is to take this data and make it usable for healthcare providers in a clinical setting. How can they take this information learned about neural activity related to metabolic syndrome and help practitioners in the field? “For example, if you have a specific score on a cognitive measure of executive function, and a particular level of cholesterol and your brain scan displays certain neuronal patterns of activation, then we can develop predictive models specific to when you are more likely to develop dementia or Alzheimer’s,” Price said.

By Brian Hudgins