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Relationships among cognitive function, fine motor speed and age in the rhesus monkey


Declines in fine motor skills and cognitive function are well known features of human aging. Yet, the relationship between age-related impairments in motor and cognitive function remains unclear. Rhesus monkeys, like humans, show marked decline in cognitive and fine motor function with age and are excellent models to investigate potential interactions between age-related declines in cognitive and motor functioning. We investigated the relationships among cognition, motor function and age in 30 male and female rhesus monkeys, 5–28 years of age, tested on a battery of cognitive tasks [acquisition of the delayed non-matching-to-sample (DNMS), DNMS-120s, DNMS-600s, acquisition of delayed recognition span test (DRST), spatial-DRST and object-DRST] and a fine motor task (Lifesaver test). Global cognitive ability, as assessed by the cognitive performance index (CPI), was impaired with age in both sexes, while age-related motor slowing was found only in males. After age was controlled for, half the variance in CPI was predicted by motor speed, with better cognitive ability associated with slower motor skills. Analyses at the level of each cognitive task revealed that motor speed and age predicted the rate of acquisition of the DNMS. This relationship was robust in males and absent in females. Motor speed was not a significant predictor of any other cognitive variable. We conclude that the relationship between cognition and motor function (1) may be limited to non-spatial tasks; (2) exists independently of age; (3) may reflect different contributions of the fronto-striatal system; (4) may be particularly evident in males.

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This work was supported by NIH grants RR00165 and AG00001. We thank Marc Rabner and Katryn Tapper for their assistance with data collection.

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Correspondence to Agnès Lacreuse.

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Lacreuse, A., Espinosa, P.M. & Herndon, J.G. Relationships among cognitive function, fine motor speed and age in the rhesus monkey. AGE 28, 255–264 (2006).

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Key words

  • aging
  • learning
  • macaque
  • motor skills
  • memory
  • sex differences