Processing speed and attention training modifies autonomic flexibility: A mechanistic intervention study
Adaptation capacity is critical for maintaining cognition, yet it is understudied in groups at risk for dementia. Autonomic nervous system (ANS) is critical for neurovisceral integration and is a key contributor to adaptation capacity. To determine the central nervous system's top-down regulation on ANS, we conducted a mechanistic randomized controlled trial study, using a 6-week processing speed and attention (PS/A) targeted intervention. Eighty-four older adults with amnestic mild cognitive
... pairment (aMCI) were randomized to a 6-week PS/A-targeted intervention or an active control without PS/A. Utilizing repeated measures (i.e., PS/A test different from the intervention, resting and cognitive task-based ECG, and resting fMRI) at baseline, immediately post-intervention (post-test), and 6-month follow-up, we aimed to test whether there is a causal influence of PS/A on vagal control of ANS via their shared central neural pathways in aMCI. We indexed vagal control of ANS using high-frequency heart rate variability (HF-HRV) extracted from ECG data. Functional brain connectivity patterns were extracted from fMRI using advanced statistical tools. Compared to the control group, the intervention group showed significant improvement in PS/A, HF-HRV, salience network (SN), central executive network (CEN), and frontal parietal network (FPN) connectivity at post-test; the effect on SN, CEN, and FPN remained at 6-month follow-up. Changes in PS/A and SN connectivity significantly predicted change in HF-HRV from baseline to post-test and/or 6-month-follow-up. Age, neurodegeneration, nor sex did not affect these relationships. This work provides novel support for top-down regulation of PS/A and associated SN on vagal control of ANS. Intervening PS/A may be a viable approach for promoting adaptation capacity in groups at risk for dementia.