Associations of Later-Life Education, the BDNF Val66Met Polymorphism and Cognitive Change in Older Adults

  • David D. WardEmail author
  • M. J. Summers
  • M. J. Valenzuela
  • V. K. Srikanth
  • J. J. Summers
  • A. E. King
  • K. Ritchie
  • A. L. Robinson
  • J. C. Vickers
Brief Reports


In 358 participants of the Tasmanian Healthy Brain Project, we quantified the cognitive consequences of engaging in varying loads of university-level education in later life, and investigated whether or not BDNF Val66Met affected outcomes. Assessment of neuropsychological, health, and psychosocial function was undertaken at baseline, 12-month, and 24-month follow-up. Education load was positively associated with change in language processing performance, but this effect did not reach statistical significance (P = 0.064). The BDNF Val66Met polymorphism significantly moderated the extent to which education load was associated with improved language processing (P = 0.026), with education load having a significant positive relationship with cognitive change in BDNF Met carriers but not in BDNF Val homozygotes. In older adults who carry BDNF Met, engaging in university-level education improves language processing performance in a load-dependent manner.

Key words

Education BDNF cognitive university intervention 



We thank Dr Nikki Saunders for project management, Mr Aidan D. Bindoff for statistical advice, Mr Graeme McCormack for assistance with data collection, and Ms Monica Antel for administrative support. Each of these individuals was affiliated with the Wicking Dementia Research & Education Centre, University of Tasmania.

Funding: Study Funded by the National Health and Medical Research Council (project grant 1003645, 1108794) and the JO and JR Wicking Trust (Equity Trustees). The sponsors had no role in the design and conduct of the study; in the collection, analysis, and interpretation of data; in the preparation of the manuscript; or in the review or approval of the manuscript.

Conflict of interest disclosure: David D. Ward — Reports no disclosures; Mathew J. Summers — Reports personal fees from Eli Lilly (Australia) Pty. Ltd., grants from Novotech Pty. Ltd., outside the submitted work; Michael J. Valenzuela — Reports no disclosures; Velandai K. Srikanth — Reports no disclosures; Jeffery J. Summers — Reports no disclosures; Anna E. King — Reports no disclosures; Karen Ritchie — Reports no disclosures; Andrew L. Robinson — Reports no disclosures; James C. Vickers — Reports no disclosures

Ethical standards: This research was conducted in full compliance of NHMRC (Australia) Human Research Guidelines, was overseen by the Human Research Ethics Committee (Tasmania) Network, and complied with the APA ethics standards and the ethical rules for human experimentation as stated in the Declaration of Helsinki.

Supplementary material

42414_2019_90_MOESM1_ESM.docx (47 kb)
Supplementary Table. Mean estimates for 24-month cognitive performance (N = 358)


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Copyright information

© Serdi and Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • David D. Ward
    • 1
    Email author
  • M. J. Summers
    • 1
    • 2
  • M. J. Valenzuela
    • 3
  • V. K. Srikanth
    • 4
    • 5
    • 6
  • J. J. Summers
    • 7
    • 8
  • A. E. King
    • 1
  • K. Ritchie
    • 9
    • 10
  • A. L. Robinson
    • 1
  • J. C. Vickers
    • 1
  1. 1.Wicking Dementia Research & Education CentreUniversity of TasmaniaHobartAustralia
  2. 2.Sunshine Coast Mind and Neuroscience — Thompson InstituteUniversity of the Sunshine CoastBirtinyaAustralia
  3. 3.Regenerative Neuroscience Group, Brain and Mind Research InstituteUniversity of SydneyCamperdownAustralia
  4. 4.Peninsula Clinical School, Central Clinical SchoolMonash UniversityMelbourneAustralia
  5. 5.Peninsula Health, Department of MedicineMelbourneAustralia
  6. 6.Menzies Institute for Medical ResearchUniversity of TasmaniaHobartAustralia
  7. 7.Research Institute for Sport and Exercise SciencesLiverpool John Moores UniversityLiverpoolUK
  8. 8.University of TasmaniaHobartAustralia
  9. 9.Inserm, U1061 Neuropsychiatry: Epidemiological and Clinical ResearchLa Colombiere HospitalMontpellierFrance
  10. 10.Centre for Clinical Brain SciencesUniversity of EdinburghEdinburghUK

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