Brain Structure and Function Associated with Younger Adults in Growth Hormone Receptor-Deficient Humans

J Neurosci. 2017 Feb 15;37(7):1696-1707. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1929-16.2016. Epub 2017 Jan 10.


Growth hormone receptor deficiency (GHRD) results in short stature, enhanced insulin sensitivity, and low circulating levels of insulin and insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1). Previous studies in mice and humans suggested that GHRD has protective effects against age-related diseases, including cancer and diabetes. Whereas GHRD mice show improved age-dependent cognitive performance, the effect of GHRD on human cognition remains unknown. Using MRI, we compared brain structure, function, and connectivity between 13 people with GHRD and 12 unaffected relatives. We assessed differences in white matter microstructural integrity, hippocampal volume, subregional volumes, and cortical thickness and surface area of selected regions. We also evaluated brain activity at rest and during a hippocampal-dependent pattern separation task. The GHRD group had larger surface areas in several frontal and cingulate regions and showed trends toward larger dentate gyrus and CA1 regions of the hippocampus. They had lower mean diffusivity in the genu of the corpus callosum and the anterior thalamic tracts. The GHRD group showed enhanced cognitive performance and greater task-related activation in frontal, parietal, and hippocampal regions compared with controls. Furthermore, they had greater functional synchronicity of activity between the precuneus and the rest of the default mode network at rest. The results suggest that, compared with controls, GHRD subjects have brain structure and function that are more consistent with those observed in younger adults reported in previous studies. Further investigation may lead to improved understanding of underlying mechanisms and could contribute to the identification of treatments for age-related cognitive deficits.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT People and mice with growth hormone receptor deficiency (GHRD or Laron syndrome) are protected against age-related diseases including cancer and diabetes. However, in humans, it is unknown whether cognitive function and brain structure are affected by GHRD. Using MRI, we examined cognition in an Ecuadorian population with GHRD and their unaffected relatives. The GHRD group showed better memory performance than their relatives. The differences in brain structure and function that we saw between the two groups were not consistent with variations typically associated with brain deficits. This study contributes to our understanding of the connection between growth genes and brain aging in humans and provides data indicating that GHR inhibition has the potential to protect against age-dependent cognitive decline.

Keywords: IGF-1; MRI; aging; cognition; growth hormone receptor deficiency; insulin.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Anisotropy
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / pathology*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Female
  • Genotype
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Insulin / blood
  • Insulin / metabolism
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor Binding Protein 1 / blood
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor I / metabolism
  • Laron Syndrome / diagnostic imaging
  • Laron Syndrome / genetics
  • Laron Syndrome / pathology*
  • Laron Syndrome / physiopathology*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Mutation / genetics
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Oxygen / blood
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Receptors, Somatotropin / genetics
  • Saliva / metabolism
  • Young Adult


  • Insulin
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor Binding Protein 1
  • Receptors, Somatotropin
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor I
  • Oxygen