National Institute on Aging > Research > Research Programs (Extramural) > Division of Neuroscience
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Research Areas

Neurobiology of Aging

Research and research training are aimed at elucidating how normal and pathological aging affect the nervous system and encompass areas of neuroscience (exclusive of research on the dementias of aging) in the following categories:

Fundamental Neuroscience—Research at the cellular and molecular level that elucidates age-related structural and functional changes.

Areas of special interest include:

    • Mechanisms of neuronal cell death and the ways by which the brain attempts to compensate for these losses
    • Role of proteolytic enzymes and mitochondrial energy metabolism in the regulation of intracellular and membrane components
    • Involvement of glial cells in age-related neuronal dysfunction and death
    • Cellular, molecular, and genetic mechanisms involved in neuronal plasticity as a function of external factors and age.

Integrative Neurobiology—Research on neural mechanisms underlying age-related changes in endocrine functions, neurodegenerative diseases of aging associated with infectious agents, and central nervous system, neuroendocrine system, and immune system interactions in aging.

One major focus is on the neural control of the senescence of reproductive function and the reciprocal control of the relevant hypothalamic regions by the gonadal hormones.

Sleep and Biological Rhythms—Research on epidemiology, etiology, pathogenesis, diagnosis, treatment, and prevention of sleep disorders of older people.

Other areas of research include age-related mechanisms underlying sleep-wakefulness cycles and behavioral sequelae in the aged; effects of normal and disordered biological rhythmicity on the aging nervous system; and cellular and molecular mechanisms controlling biological rhythmicity within the aging nervous system.

Sensory Processes—Research on mechanisms of normal aging and disease-related alterations in visual, auditory, somatosensory, and chemosensory functions from the whole organism to the gene.

Areas of special research interest include clarifying how cellular, molecular, and central mechanisms affect the age-associated changes in hearing, vision, and the chemical and proprioceptive senses and their interactions as multimodal systems.

Motor Function—Research on proprioception, postural control, sensory-guided movement, vestibular, and movement disorders in aging.

Neuropsychology of Aging

Research to better understand the alterations in attention, cognition, affect, language, learning, and memory that occur with normal aging in the following categories:

Cognitive Neuroscience—Research on the mechanisms underlying how attention, learning, memory, spatial orientation, language, affect, reasoning, decisionmaking, and judgment may change with age and experience.

Examples include:

    • Human studies on the mechanisms underlying skill acquisition in older adults, memory subsystems affected by aging, the operations of selective and visual attention, and discourse processing in aging
    • Neuropsychological studies of sparing and loss of cognitive capacities in select populations of older adults
    • Studies that link neuroscience and cognitive science approaches to aging by using methods ranging from molecular to behavioral to elucidate and understand the processes underlying behavior in the aged.

Dementias of Aging

Research on basic, clinical, and epidemiological studies of the etiology, diagnosis, and treatment of Alzheimer's disease and other dementias and treatable brain disorders of older people in the following categories:

Basic Research—Research on the etiology of Alzheimer's disease and other age-related neurodegenerative disorders.

Areas of research interest include studies to identify genetic loci associated with inherited forms of these diseases and biochemical and molecular genetic analysis of the components of amyloid plaques, neurofibrillary tangles, and other abnormal structures found in the brains of people with Alzheimer's disease.

Population Studies—Research on the epidemiology of Alzheimer's disease and models for large area registries for Alzheimer's disease and other dementing diseases of later life.

Areas of special interest include:

    • Domestic, cross-cultural, and international epidemiological studies of the age-specific incidence and prevalence rates and risk factors for Alzheimer's disease
    • Development and testing of models for registries for dementing diseases
    • Natural history, clinical course, comorbid conditions, and causes of death for specific dementing diseases
    • Familial aggregation studies
    • Development of sensitive and specific cognitive and diagnostic screening instruments for use in heterogeneous and culturally varied populations.

Clinical Studies—Research on the diagnosis, treatment, and management of patients with Alzheimer's disease.

Areas of research include:

    • Development and evaluation of multidimensional diagnostic procedures and instruments
    • Identification and testing of preclinical and antemortem biological, chemical, and behavioral markers for Alzheimer's disease
    • Refinement of the diagnosis of Alzheimer's disease, including studies of neuropsychological batteries, neuroradiological techniques, clinical and neuropathological concordance studies, and diagnostic procedures.

Research on treatment and management of Alzheimer's disease include:

    • Development of the knowledge base required to interrupt the course of the disease, manage the behavioral manifestations and prevent Alzheimer's disease
    • Conduction of clinical trials of pharmacologic agents and studies of behavioral and environmental interventions, individually and in combinations
    • Conduction of preclinical animal and drug development studies
    • Preservation of function and reducing excess disability, including research on wandering, insomnia, pacing, agitation, feeding and dressing difficulties, and urinary and fecal incontinence.

Research Center—Alzheimer's Disease Centers (ADC) Program.

ADC supports a multifaceted approach to Alzheimer's disease, including clinical and other core services, basic and clinical research, professional and public information, and educational activities. The ADC provides core resources that serve as the foundation for the development of expanded multidisciplinary research activities in Alzheimer's disease.

Page last updated Feb 19, 2009