Right fronto-parietal networks mediate the neurocognitive benefits of enriched environments.
Brosnan MB., Shalev N., Ramduny J., Sotiropoulos SN., Chechlacz M.
Exposure to enriched environments throughout a lifetime, providing so-called reserve, protects against cognitive decline in later years. It has been hypothesized that high levels of alertness necessitated by enriched environments might strengthen the right fronto-parietal networks to facilitate this neurocognitive resilience. We have previously shown that enriched environments offset age-related deficits in selective attention by preserving grey matter within right fronto-parietal regions. Here, using neurite orientation dispersion and density imaging, we examined the relationship between enriched environments, microstructural properties of fronto-parietal white matter association pathways (three branches of the superior longitudinal fasciculus), structural brain health (atrophy), and attention (alertness, orienting and executive control) in a group of older adults. We show that exposure to enriched environments is associated with a lower orientation dispersion index within the right superior longitudinal fasciculus 1 which in turn mediates the relationship between enriched environments and alertness, as well as grey and white matter atrophy. This suggests that enriched environments may induce white matter plasticity (and prevent age-related dispersion of axons) within the right fronto-parietal networks to facilitate the preservation of neurocognitive health in later years.