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Aging-related changes in fluid intelligence, muscle and adipose mass, and sex-specific immunologic mediation: A longitudinal UK Biobank study

Klinedinst BS, Pappas C, Le S, Yu S, Wang Q, Wang L, Allenspach-Jorn K, Mochel JP, Willette AA (2019) Brain Behav Immun.  2019 Nov; 82: 396-405. doi: 10.1016/j.bbi.2019.09.008. Epub 2019 Sep 9. 

Web URL: Read this and related abstracts on PubMed here



Obesity in midlife and early late-life is associated with worse normal cognitive aging. Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry (DEXA) suggests that visceral adipose mass (VAM) plays a predominant role, whereas non-visceral adipose mass (NVAM) and lean muscle mass (LMM) have shown conflicting relationships. It is unknown how longitudinal, cognitive changes in age-sensitive domains like fluid intelligence (FI) correspond to VAM, NVAM, and LMM in women and men. Furthermore, changes over time in blood leukocyte sub-populations may partially or fully account for sex-specific associations.


Data on 4431 late middle-aged, cognitively unimpaired adults (mean = 64.5 y) was obtained from the UK Biobank prospective cohort across 22 centers. FI scores, blood leukocyte counts, and covariates (age, social class, education) were measured at three 2-year intervals over 6 years. DEXA collection overlapped with these intervals. Sex-stratified growth curves, structural equations, and Preacher-Hayes mediation were used to estimate direct and indirect effects. β-weights were standardized.


More LMM predicted gains in FI scores among women (β = 0.130, p < .001) and men (β = 0.089, p < .001). Conversely, more VAM and NVAM independently predicted FI decline equally among sexes (e.g., NVAM: women: β = -0.082, p < .001; men: β = -0.076, p < .001). Among women, FI associations were fully mediated by higher eosinophil counts via VAM (λ = 30.8%, p = .028) and lower lymphocyte counts via LMM (λ = 69.2%, p = .021). Among men, FI associations were partially mediated by lower basophils counts via LMM (λ = 4.5%, p = .042) and higher counts via VAM (λ = 50%, p = .037).


The proportion of LMM and VAM equally influenced male FI changes over 6 years, whereas higher LMM among women appeared to more strongly influence. FI changes. Leukocyte counts strongly mediated VAM- and LMM-related FI changes in a sex-specific manner, but not for NVAM. For clinical translation, exercise studies in older adults may benefit from assessing sex-specific values of DEXA-based tissue mass, FI, and leukocyte sub-populations to gauge potential cognitive benefits of less VAM and more LMM.


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