Brain Imaging and Behavior

, Volume 11, Issue 2, pp 318–332 | Cite as

Differential age-related gray and white matter impact mediates educational influence on elders’ cognition

  • Lídia Vaqué-Alcázar
  • Roser Sala-Llonch
  • Cinta Valls-Pedret
  • Dídac Vidal-Piñeiro
  • Sara Fernández-Cabello
  • Núria Bargalló
  • Emilio Ros
  • David Bartrés-Faz
SI: Resilience/Reserve in AD


High education, as a proxy of cognitive reserve (CR), has been associated with cognitive advantage amongst old adults and may operate through neuroprotective and/or compensation mechanisms. In neuromaging studies, indirect evidences of neuroprotection can be inferred from positive relationships between CR and brain integrity measures. In contrast, compensation allows high CR elders to sustain greater brain damage. We included 100 cognitively normal old-adults and investigated the associations and interactions between education, speed of processing (SP), memory and two brain integrity measures: cortical thickness (CTh) of gray matter (GM) and fractional anisotropy (FA) in the white matter (WM). High education was associated with better cognitive performance, enlarged CTh in frontal lobe areas and reduced measures of FA in several areas. Better SP performance in higher educated subjects was related to more preserved GM and WM, while memory status amongst high educated elders was better explained by a putative compensatory mechanism and independently from cerebrovascular risk indicators. Moreover, we analyzed the direct effect of age on measures of brain integrity and found a stronger negative effect on WM than in CTh, which was accentuated amongst the high CR sample. Our study suggests that the cognitive advantage associated to high education among healthy aging is related to the coexistence of both neuroprotective and compensatory mechanisms. In particular, high educated elders seem to have greater capacity to counteract a more abrupt age impact on WM integrity.


Aging Education Cognitive reserve Neuroprotection Compensation Structural changes Speed of processing Memory 


Compliance with ethical standards


Partially funded by Spanish Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness (MINECO) grant to D-BF (PSI2015-64227-R) and the Walnuts and Healthy Aging (WAHA) study ( NCT01634841) funded by the California Walnut Commission, Sacramento, California, USA. CIBEROBN is an initiative of ISCIII, Spain.

Conflict of interest

Lídia Vaqué-Alcázar declares that she has no conflict of interest. Roser Sala-Llonch declares that she has no conflict of interest. Cinta Valls declares that she has no conflict of interest. Dídac Vidal-Piñeiro declares that he has no conflict of interest. Sara Fernández-Cabello declares that she has no conflict of interest. Núria Bargalló declares that she has no conflict of interest. Emilio Ros declares that he has no conflict of interest. David Bartrés-Faz declares that he has no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

All procedures performed in studies involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Informed consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Lídia Vaqué-Alcázar
    • 1
    • 2
  • Roser Sala-Llonch
    • 3
  • Cinta Valls-Pedret
    • 2
    • 4
    • 5
  • Dídac Vidal-Piñeiro
    • 3
  • Sara Fernández-Cabello
    • 6
    • 7
  • Núria Bargalló
    • 2
    • 8
  • Emilio Ros
    • 2
    • 4
    • 5
  • David Bartrés-Faz
    • 1
    • 2
    • 9
  1. 1.Medical Psychology Unit, Department of Medicine, Faculty of Medicine and Health SciencesUniversity of BarcelonaBarcelonaSpain
  2. 2.Institut d’Investigacions Biomèdiques August Pi i Sunyer (IDIBAPS)BarcelonaSpain
  3. 3.Research Group for Lifespan Changes in Brain and Cognition, Department of PsychologyUniversity of OsloOsloNorway
  4. 4.Lipid Clinic, Endocrinology and Nutrition ServiceHospital ClínicBarcelonaSpain
  5. 5.Ciber Fisiopatología de la Obesidad y nutrición (CIBEROBN)Insituto de Salud Carlos IIIMadridSpain
  6. 6.Department of PsychologyUniversity of SalzburgSalzburgAustria
  7. 7.Center for Neurocognitive ResearchUniversity of SalzburgSalzburgAustria
  8. 8.Neuroradiology Section, Radiology Service, Centre de Diagnòstic per la ImatgeHospital ClínicBarcelonaSpain
  9. 9.Institute of NeurosciencesUniversity of BarcelonaBarcelonaSpain

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