Cognitive reserve is the ability to sustain cognitive function even with a certain amount of brain damages. Here we investigate the neural compensation mechanism of cognitive reserve from the perspective of structural brain connectivity. Our goal was to show that normal people with high education levels (i.e., cognitive reserve) maintain abundant pathways connecting any two brain regions, providing better compensation or resilience after brain damage. Accordingly, patients with high education levels show more deterioration in structural brain connectivity than those with low education levels before symptoms of Alzheimer's disease (AD) become apparent. To test this hypothesis, we use network flow measuring the number of alternative paths between two brain regions in the brain network. The experimental results show that for normal aging, education strengthens network reliability, as measured through flow values, in a subnetwork centered at the supramarginal gyrus. For AD, a subnetwork centered at the left middle frontal gyrus shows a negative correlation between flow and education, which implies more collapse in structural brain connectivity for highly educated patients. We conclude that cognitive reserve may come from the ability of network reorganization to secure the information flow within the brain network, therefore making it more resistant to disease progress.
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