The Neurocognitive Effects of Bacopa monnieri and Cognitive Training on Markers of Brain Microstructure in Healthy Older Adults

Front Aging Neurosci. 2021 Feb 22:13:638109. doi: 10.3389/fnagi.2021.638109. eCollection 2021.


Bacopa monnieri (BM) is a herbal supplement that increases signaling molecules implicated in synaptogenesis. Combined with cognitive stimulation, it may be a viable supplement to enhance long-term potentiation (LTP) and improve cognitive health in older adults. This randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial asked 28 healthy adults aged over 55 years to complete cognitive training (CT) 3 hours weekly for 12 weeks. Fifteen consumed a standardized extract of BM and 13 consumed a placebo daily. Cognitive tasks, life-satisfaction, memory complaints and mood were assessed, and bloods analyzed for serum brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) before and after 12-weeks of the intervention. Diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) and neurite orientation dispersion and density imaging (NODDI) in gray (GM) and white matter (WM) were also analyzed. Results demonstrated slower reaction time in an image discrimination task in the BM group and faster reaction time in a spatial working memory task (SWM-O RT) in the placebo group. Mean accuracy was higher in the BM group for these tasks, suggesting a change in the speed accuracy trade-off. Exploratory neuroimaging analysis showed increased WM mean diffusivity (MD) and GM dispersion of neurites (orientation dispersion index, ODI) and decreased WM fractional anisotropy (FA) and GM neurite density (ND) in the BM group. No other outcomes reached statistical significance. An increase in ODI with a decrease in MD and ND in the BM group may indicate an increase in network complexity (through higher dendritic branching) accompanied by dendritic pruning to enhance network efficiency. These neuroimaging outcomes conflict with the behavioral results, which showed poorer reaction time in the BM group. Given the exploratory outcomes and inconsistent findings between the behavioral and neuroimaging data, a larger study is needed to confirm the synaptogenic mechanisms of BM.

Keywords: Bacopa monnieri; Brahmi; brain microstructure; cognitive aging; cognitive training; diffusion weighted imaging.