Document Type


Publication Date



Frontiers Media S.A.

Source Publication

Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience

Source ISSN



Individuals with Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI) are at an elevated risk of dementia and exhibit deficits in cognition and cortical gray matter (GM) volume, thickness, and microstructure. Meanwhile, exercise training appears to preserve brain function and macrostructure may help delay or prevent the onset of dementia in individuals with MCI. Yet, our understanding of the neurophysiological effects of exercise training in individuals with MCI remains limited. Recent work suggests that the measures of gray matter microstructure using diffusion imaging may be sensitive to early cognitive and neurophysiological changes in the aging brain. Therefore, this study is aimed to determine the effects of exercise training in cognition and cortical gray matter microstructure in individuals with MCI vs. cognitively healthy older adults. Fifteen MCI participants and 17 cognitively intact controls (HC) volunteered for a 12-week supervised walking intervention. Following the intervention, MCI and HC saw improvements in cardiorespiratory fitness, performance on Trial 1 of the Rey Auditory Verbal Learning Test (RAVLT), a measure of verbal memory, and the Controlled Oral Word Association Test (COWAT), a measure of verbal fluency. After controlling for age, a voxel-wise analysis of cortical gray matter diffusivity showed individuals with MCI exhibited greater increases in mean diffusivity (MD) in the left insular cortex than HC. This increase in MD was positively associated with improvements in COWAT performance. Additionally, after controlling for age, the voxel-wise analysis indicated a main effect of Time with both groups experiencing an increase in left insular and left and right cerebellar MD. Increases in left insular diffusivity were similarly found to be positively associated with improvements in COWAT performance in both groups, while increases in cerebellar MD were related to gains in episodic memory performance. These findings suggest that exercise training may be related to improvements in neural circuits that govern verbal fluency performance in older adults through the microstructural remodeling of cortical gray matter. Furthermore, changes in left insular cortex microstructure may be particularly relevant to improvements in verbal fluency among individuals diagnosed with MCI.


Published version. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, Vol. 13 (April 08, 2021): 645258. DOI. © 2021 Callow, Won, Pena, Jordan, Arnold-Nedimala, Kommula, Nielson and Smith. This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). Used with permission.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

nielson_14898acc.docx (107 kB)
ADA Accessible Version

Included in

Psychology Commons