Education mitigates age-related decline in N-Acetylaspartate levels

Kirk I. Erickson, Regina L. Leckie, Andrea M. Weinstein, Polina Radchenkova, Bradley P. Sutton, Ruchika S haurya Prakash, Michelle W. Voss, Laura Chaddock-Heyman, Edward McAuley, Arthur F. Kramer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Greater educational attainment is associated with better neurocognitive health in older adults and is thought to reflect a measure of cognitive reserve. In vivo neuroimaging tools have begun to identify the brain systems and networks potentially responsible for reserve. Methods: We examined the relationship between education, a commonly used proxy for cognitive reserve, and N-acetylaspartate (NAA) in neurologically healthy older adults (N = 135; mean age = 66 years). Using single voxel MR spectroscopy, we predicted that higher levels of education would moderate an age-related decline in NAA in the frontal cortex. Results: After controlling for the variance associated with cardiorespiratory fitness, sex, annual income, and creatine levels, there were no significant main effects of education (B = 0.016, P = 0.787) or age (B = -0.058, P = 0.204) on NAA levels. However, consistent with our predictions, there was a significant education X age interaction such that more years of education offset an age-related decline in NAA (B = 0.025, P = 0.031). When examining working memory via the backwards digit span task, longer span length was associated with greater education (P < 0.01) and showed a trend with greater NAA concentrations (P < 0.06); however, there was no age X education interaction on digit span performance nor a significant moderated mediation effect between age, education, and NAA on digit span performance. Conclusions: Taken together, these results suggest that higher levels of education may attenuate an age-related reduction in neuronal viability in the frontal cortex.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)8
Number of pages1
JournalBrain and Behavior
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2015


  • Aging
  • Brain reserve
  • Cognitive reserve
  • Education
  • Fitness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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