Industrialized environments, despite benefits such as higher levels of formal education and lower rates of infections, can also have pernicious impacts upon brain atrophy. Partly for this reason, comparing age-related brain volume trajectories between industrialized and non-industrialized populations can help to suggest lifestyle correlates of brain health. The Tsimane, indigenous to the Bolivian Amazon, derive their subsistence from foraging and horticulture and are physically active. The Moseten, a mixed-ethnicity farming population, are physically active but less than the Tsimane. Within both populations (N = 1024; age range = 46–83), we calculated regional brain volumes from computed tomography and compared their cross-sectional trends with age to those of UK Biobank (UKBB) participants (N = 19,973; same age range). Surprisingly among Tsimane and Moseten (T/M) males, some parietal and occipital structures mediating visuospatial abilities exhibit small but significant increases in regional volume with age. UKBB males exhibit a steeper negative trend of regional volume with age in frontal and temporal structures compared to T/M males. However, T/M females exhibit significantly steeper rates of brain volume decrease with age compared to UKBB females, particularly for some cerebro-cortical structures (e.g., left subparietal cortex). Across the three populations, observed trends exhibit no interhemispheric asymmetry. In conclusion, the age-related rate of regional brain volume change may differ by lifestyle and sex. The lack of brain volume reduction with age is not known to exist in other human population, highlighting the putative role of lifestyle in constraining regional brain atrophy and promoting elements of non-industrialized lifestyle like higher physical activity.


Brain aging; Neurodegeneration; Cortex;

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Published in

GeroScience, April 2024