Structure-Function Dissociations of Human Hippocampal Subfield Stiffness and Memory Performance

J Neurosci. 2022 Oct 19;42(42):7957-7968. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.0592-22.2022. Epub 2022 Sep 6.


Aging and neurodegenerative diseases lead to decline in thinking and memory ability. The subfields of the hippocampus (HCsf) play important roles in memory formation and recall. Imaging techniques sensitive to the underlying HCsf tissue microstructure can reveal unique structure-function associations and their vulnerability in aging and disease. The goal of this study was to use magnetic resonance elastography (MRE), a noninvasive MR imaging-based technique that can quantitatively image the viscoelastic mechanical properties of tissue to determine the associations of HCsf stiffness with different cognitive domains across the lifespan. Eighty-eight adult participants completed the study (age 23-81 years, male/female 36/51), in which we aimed to determine which HCsf regions most strongly correlated with different memory performance outcomes and if viscoelasticity of specific HCsf regions mediated the relationship between age and performance. Our results revealed that both interference cost on a verbal memory task and relational memory task performance were significantly related to cornu ammonis 1-2 (CA1-CA2) stiffness (p = 0.018 and p = 0.011, respectively), with CA1-CA2 stiffness significantly mediating the relationship between age and interference cost performance (p = 0.031). There were also significant associations between delayed free verbal recall performance and stiffness of both the dentate gyrus-cornu ammonis 3 (DG-CA3; p = 0.016) and subiculum (SUB; p = 0.032) regions. This further exemplifies the functional specialization of HCsf in declarative memory and the potential use of MRE measures as clinical biomarkers in assessing brain health in aging and disease.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Hippocampal subfields are cytoarchitecturally unique structures involved in distinct aspects of memory processing. Magnetic resonance elastography is a technique that can noninvasively image tissue viscoelastic mechanical properties, potentially serving as sensitive biomarkers of aging and neurodegeneration related to functional outcomes. High-resolution in vivo imaging has invigorated interest in determining subfield functional specialization and their differential vulnerability in aging and disease. Applying MRE to probe subfield-specific cognitive correlates will indicate that measures of subfield stiffness can determine the integrity of structures supporting specific domains of memory performance. These findings will further validate our high-resolution MRE method and support the potential use of subfield stiffness measures as clinical biomarkers in classifying aging and disease states.

Keywords: aging; elastography; hippocampus; memory; stiffness; subfields.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Cognition
  • Female
  • Hippocampus* / diagnostic imaging
  • Hippocampus* / pathology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Male
  • Memory*
  • Mental Recall
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Young Adult