Gray matter differences correlate with spontaneous strategies in a human virtual navigation task.
Bohbot VD., Lerch J., Thorndycraft B., Iaria G., Zijdenbos AP.
Young healthy participants spontaneously use different strategies in a virtual radial maze, an adaptation of a task typically used with rodents. Functional magnetic resonance imaging confirmed previously that people who used spatial memory strategies showed increased activity in the hippocampus, whereas response strategies were associated with activity in the caudate nucleus. Here, voxel based morphometry was used to identify brain regions covarying with the navigational strategies used by individuals. Results showed that spatial learners had significantly more gray matter in the hippocampus and less gray matter in the caudate nucleus compared with response learners. Furthermore, the gray matter in the hippocampus was negatively correlated to the gray matter in the caudate nucleus, suggesting a competitive interaction between these two brain areas. In a second analysis, the gray matter of regions known to be anatomically connected to the hippocampus, such as the amygdala, parahippocampal, perirhinal, entorhinal and orbitofrontal cortices were shown to covary with gray matter in the hippocampus. Because low gray matter in the hippocampus is a risk factor for Alzheimer's disease, these results have important implications for intervention programs that aim at functional recovery in these brain areas. In addition, these data suggest that spatial strategies may provide protective effects against degeneration of the hippocampus that occurs with normal aging.