What causes disconnection between the limbic system and the cerebrum?

This 2014 Swedish human study with 339 subjects aged 25-80 years old found that as the subjects’ age increased, the hippocampus part of their limbic system became less connected to their cerebrums:

“Age-related cortico–hippocampal functional connectivity disruption leads to a more functionally isolated hippocampus at rest, which translates into aberrant hippocampal decoupling and deficits in active mnemonic processing.”

The lead researcher said:

“What we can now show is that memory problems that come with increased age are most likely due to a process where the interaction among different regions of the hippocampus increases in response to less inhibitory cortical input. This in turn means that the hippocampus risks being more isolated from other important networks in the brain which impacts our ability to actively engage the hippocampus, for example to remember different events.”

Like other researchers commonly do, they excluded emotional content from the study. See another Swedish study Emotional memories and out-of-body–induced hippocampal amnesia as an example of why emotional memories are necessary in order to properly study the hippocampus.


As a result of excluding emotional content and other aspects of the study’ design such as using 25 as the beginning age of the subjects, all the researchers could muster as a explanatory factor was age. However, they had to couch their findings as “age-related” because age in and of itself wasn’t a causal explanation for the observed effects.

The findings weren’t truly “age-related”  because, for example, the study didn’t necessarily apply to people below the age of 25. Had the study included 10-18 year old subjects, the researchers may have found that “less inhibitory cortical input” may also be present before puberty, as The prefrontal cortex develops more repressive function at puberty study indicated.

Had the study design included neurochemicals, the researchers may have found that “cortico–hippocampal functional connectivity disruption” was due to factors that influenced dopamine and glutamate levels, as A mechanistic study of neurotransmitters in the hippocampus indicated.

A finding that “cortico–hippocampal functional connectivity disruption” was influenced by other factors may have been made had the study design included the subjects’ histories. Per my Welcome page:

  • the findings of much of the recent research I’ve curated on this blog, and
  • the references in those studies

show that when basic needs aren’t met, especially early in people’s lives, and the painful conditions persist, enduring physiological changes may occur.

What the researchers noted in the study’s limitation paragraph were references to fMRI scans rather than limitations such as those mentioned above regarding the study design. The study provided unconvincing evidence for causes of “cortico–hippocampal functional connectivity disruption” and it wasn’t because of fMRI limitations.

http://www.pnas.org/content/111/49/17654.full “Elevated hippocampal resting-state connectivity underlies deficient neurocognitive function in aging”

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