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Approved Research

Heterogeneity in individual structural brain ageing

Principal Investigator: Dr Katja Franke
Approved Research ID: 42577
Approval date: July 9th 2020

Lay summary

With increasing age, the human brain changes in a characteristic way. These changes are associated with functional and cognitive changes as well as the development of neurodegenerative diseases. Therefore, it is important that individual differences in the brain ageing process are better understood and methodically operationalised. In recent years, several MRI-based methods for measuring the biological "brain age" have been developed as biomarkers for individual brain health in order to make individual predictions about the ageing of the brain. Current research increasingly shows the negative effects of brain diseases or poor physical condition on brain age, as well as a connection of premature brain ageing with advanced physiological and cognitive ageing and mortality risk.

Our intuitive, non-invasive brain ageing biomarker "BrainAGE" is the most commonly used method to quickly and precisely determine the individual biological brain age using a structural MRI scan. The difference between biological brain age and chronological age is called the "Brain Age Gap Estimation (BrainAGE) score", with positive values indicating premature brain ageing. This innovative biomarker for structural brain ageing is suitable for intuitively operationalising individual differences and analysing probable correlates, as well as detecting accelerated degeneration processes of the brain structure. So far, the BrainAGE method has already been used to detect premature and accelerated brain ageing in Alzheimer's dementia, schizophrenia, diabetes mellitus type 2, metabolic syndrome. Good health, meditation practice and active music-making turned out to be protective factors. Methods similar to the BrainAGE algorithm also report premature brain aging, e.g. in epilepsy, Down's syndrome, HIV, middle-aged obesity, etc.

This projects aims to identify the correlates (Individual lifestyle, health status, disease status, genetic status, cognitive status, etc.) of the heterogeneity in structural brain ageing and explore their protecting or harming effects for individual brain ageing, utilising the innovative BrainAGE biomarker.