Small project grants 2022: Finding age related changes in brain structural changes

Nordic Mensa Fund awarded two small project grants in 2022. Leonardo Bonetti from the University of Aarhus, Denmark was awarded a grant for the project: The impact of ageing on the brain underpinnings of intelligence and auditory memory.

Intelligence and cognitive abilities are relatively stable psychological traits across the lifespan. However, ageing is often associated with the decline of cognitive abilities and intelligence, sometimes leading to pathological conditions such as mild cognitive impairment and dementia. Considering the high impact of ageing on society, this topic attracts much interest. However, little is known on the relationship between ageing and the rapid brain processes underlying human intelligence and auditory memory. Likewise, the age-related changes of the brain structural connections in relation to intelligence and brain functioning remain unclear.

Leonardo Bonetti’s research aims to discover the impact of ageing and healthy cognitive decline on the brain functional and structural underpinnings of intelligence and auditory memory. The brain activity of the participants will be measured using two state-of-the art neuroscientific tools, magnetoencephalography (MEG) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) located at Aarhus University Hospital, while participants perform tasks related to memorization, recognition, and prediction of auditory sequences. Moreover, they will also assess participants’ fluid intelligence and correlate it with measures of their brain functions and structures. Importantly, participants will include both young (younger than 25 years old) and older (older than 60 years old) healthy adults and the data collected for those two groups will be compared. In conclusion, the project will greatly improve the understanding of the impact of ageing on the neural substrate of intelligence and auditory memory. Further, it may represent the first step of a larger scientific vision aiming to detect the neural markers which could predict the probability of insurgence of age-related intelligence and memory diseases such as dementia.

Leonardo Bonetti is a cognitive neuroscientist at the Center for Music in the Brain, Aarhus University, and at the Centre for Eudaimonia and Human Flourishing, University of Oxford. In his research, Leonardo combines music with state-of-the-art neuroscientific tools to unveil the neural substrate of encoding and recognition of temporal sequences and to assess the impact of individual cognitive differences and ageing on such brain mechanisms. This research led Leonardo to be recently awarded the prestigious Lundbeck Foundation’s Talent Prize 2022.