Cortical Proteins and Individual Differences in Cognitive Resilience in Older Adults

Neurology. 2022 Mar 29;98(13):e1304-e1314. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000200017. Epub 2022 Mar 3.


Background and objectives: Cognitive resilience is a well-recognized concept, but knowledge gaps about its underlying mechanisms have made it difficult to develop instruments that identify older adults with high or low resilience. We tested whether aggregating cortical peptides associated with cognitive resilience into an index can identify adults with higher or lower cognitive resilience.

Methods: We used data from 1,192 older decedents, including annual clinical testing, indices of 10 Alzheimer disease (AD) and related dementia (ADRD) pathologies, and 226 proteotypic peptides measured in the dorsal lateral prefrontal cortex. We used linear mixed-effects models to identify peptides that were related to cognitive resilience (i.e., cognitive decline not explained by ADRD pathologies [false discovery rate <0.05]). We aggregated the expression levels of these resilience peptides into a person-specific cognitive resilience index and examined its association with AD clinical and pathologic phenotypes.

Results: We constructed a resilience index from 52 of 226 peptides related to cognitive resilience. A higher index was associated with slower cognitive decline (estimate 0.05, SE 0.003, p < 0.001) and slower motor decline (estimate 0.005, SE 0.001, p < 0.001). Most resilience peptides (70%) were specific to cognitive decline, but 30% also provided resilience for motor decline. A higher index was also related to a lower burden of AD pathologies (odds ratio [OR] 0.41, SE 0.01, p < 0.001) and modified the association of AD pathology with cognition in that a higher index modified the negative effects of AD pathology on AD dementia proximate to death (OR 0.70, SE 0.14, p = 0.010). Up to 90% of cognitive resilience peptides were related to AD pathologic phenotypes.

Discussion: Cortical proteins may provide some degree of cognitive resilience. These multifunctional proteins also seem to provide resilience to other AD clinical phenotypes and have independent associations with ADRD pathologies. Resilience proteins may be high-value therapeutic targets for drug discovery of interventions that maintain brain health in aging adults via multiple pathways.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Alzheimer Disease* / pathology
  • Brain / pathology
  • Cognition
  • Cognitive Dysfunction* / metabolism
  • Humans
  • Individuality