Individual differences in cognitive performance increase from early to late adulthood, likely reflecting influences of a multitude of factors. We hypothesize that losses in neurochemical and anatomical brain resources in normal aging modulate the effects of common genetic variations on cognitive functioning. Our hypothesis is based on the assumption that the function relating brain resources to cognition is nonlinear, so that genetic differences exert increasingly large effects on cognition as resources recede from high to medium levels in the course of aging. Direct empirical support for this hypothesis comes from a study by Nagel et al. (2008), who reported that the effects of the Catechol-O-Methyltransferase (COMT) gene on cognitive performance are magnified in old age and interacted with the Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor (BDNF) gene. We conclude that common genetic polymorphisms contribute to the increasing heterogeneity of cognitive functioning in old age. Extensions of the hypothesis to other polymorphisms are discussed. (150 of 150 words).
Keywords: aging; cognition; dopamine; genes; resources.