Set-to-change: Early life factors restricting and promoting neurocognitive plasticity through life
Cognitive function in old age can be predicted from how you functioned when you were young. This is remarkable, as there are substantial cognitive age changes. Are we neurodevelopmentally set to change through life in certain ways?
About the Project
The objective of Set-to-change is to test whether and how early life environmental factors and genetic makeup interact to regulate neurocognitive plasticity through the lifespan. Neurocognitive plasticity; i.e. changes in brain and cognition in response to environmental demands over time, shows huge individual variability, for unknown reasons. Neurodevelopmental origins of functional variation through the lifespan are acknowledged, but the pathways need to be identified. As individual constitution and environment are intrinsically correlated, to make progress beyond state of the art, this can only be tested in an experimental setting.
The novelty and ground-breaking nature of the project lies in the synthesis of a targeted experimental approach testing differences in neurocognitive plasticity by training of younger and older adult mono- (MZ) and dizygotic twins (total n = 400 individuals), with varying degrees of prenatal environmental variance, as indexed by their extent of discordance in birth weight (BW). BW discordance in MZ twins enables me to disentangle early environmental and genetic influences on neurocognitive plasticity. I will employ a novel ecologically valid memory intervention utilizing navigation with true locomotion and prospective memory in virtual reality. Twins will be assessed with brain MRI, cognitive, health and epigenetic measures at multiple time points spread across 2.5 years pre- and post- 3 months intervention in a AB/BA crossover design, to investigate neurocognitive plasticity and age change longitudinally, as well as possible lifestyle and epigenetic mediators. I hypothesize that early life environmental influences will interact with genetic makeup in determining neurocognitive plasticity in adulthood.