Hippocampal morphology and cognitive functions in community-dwelling older people: the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936

Neurobiol Aging. 2017 Apr;52:1-11. doi: 10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2016.12.012. Epub 2016 Dec 21.


Structural measures of the hippocampus have been linked to a variety of memory processes and also to broader cognitive abilities. Gross volumetry has been widely used, yet the hippocampus has a complex formation, comprising distinct subfields which may be differentially sensitive to the deleterious effects of age, and to different aspects of cognitive performance. However, a comprehensive analysis of multidomain cognitive associations with hippocampal deformations among a large group of cognitively normal older adults is currently lacking. In 654 participants of the Lothian Birth Cohort 1936 (mean age = 72.5, SD = 0.71 years), we examined associations between the morphology of the hippocampus and a variety of memory tests (spatial span, letter-number sequencing, verbal recall, and digit backwards), as well as broader cognitive domains (latent measures of speed, fluid intelligence, and memory). Following correction for age, sex, and vascular risk factors, analysis of memory subtests revealed that only right hippocampal associations in relation to spatial memory survived type 1 error correction in subiculum and in CA1 at the head (β = 0.201, p = 5.843 × 10-4, outward), and in the ventral tail section of CA1 (β = -0.272, p = 1.347 × 10-5, inward). With respect to latent measures of cognitive domains, only deformations associated with processing speed survived type 1 error correction in bilateral subiculum (βabsolute ≤ 0.247, p < 1.369 × 10-4, outward), bilaterally in the ventral tail section of CA1 (βabsolute ≤ 0.242, p < 3.451 × 10-6, inward), and a cluster at the left anterior-to-dorsal region of the head (β = 0.199, p = 5.220 × 10-6, outward). Overall, our results indicate that a complex pattern of both inward and outward hippocampal deformations are associated with better processing speed and spatial memory in older age, suggesting that complex shape-based hippocampal analyses may provide valuable information beyond gross volumetry.

Keywords: Aging; Hippocampus; Intelligence; Memory; Mesh models; Morphology.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging / pathology*
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Hippocampus / diagnostic imaging
  • Hippocampus / pathology*
  • Humans
  • Independent Living
  • Intelligence / physiology
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Memory
  • Scotland