Self-rated intensity of habitual physical activities is positively associated with dopamine D2/3 receptor availability and cognition

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Between-person differences in cognitive performance in older age are associated with variations in physical activity. The neurotransmitter dopamine (DA) contributes to cognitive performance, and the DA system deteriorates with advancing age. Animal data and a patient study suggest that physical activity modulates DA receptor availability, but data from healthy humans are lacking. In a cross-sectional study with 178 adults aged 64–68 years, we investigated links among self-reported physical activity, D2/D3 DA receptor (D2/3DR) availability, and cognitive performance. D2/3DR availability was measured with [11C]raclopride positron emission tomography at rest. We used structural equation modeling to obtain latent factors for processing speed, episodic memory, working memory, physical activity, and D2/3DR availability in caudate, putamen, and hippocampus. Physical activity intensity was positively associated with D2/3DR availability in caudate, but not putamen and hippocampus. Frequency of physical activity was not related to D2/3DR availability. Physical activity intensity was positively related to episodic memory and working memory. D2/3DR availability in caudate and hippocampus was positively related to episodic memory. Taken together, our results suggest that striatal DA availability might be a neurochemical correlate of episodic memory that is also associated with physical activity.

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