Open Access Open Badges Research article

Neck muscle cross-sectional area, brain volume and cognition in healthy older men; a cohort study

Alixe HM Kilgour12*, Karen J Ferguson12, Calum D Gray36, Ian J Deary14, Joanna M Wardlaw1356, Alasdair MJ MacLullich12 and John M Starr12

Author affiliations

1 Centre for Cognitive Ageing and Cognitive Epidemiology, The University of Edinburgh, 7 George Square, EH8 9JZ, Edinburgh, UK

2 Geriatric Medicine Unit, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK

3 Clinical Research Imaging Centre, Queen’s Medical Research Institute, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK

4 Department of Psychology, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK

5 Brain Research Imaging Centre, Clinical Neurosciences, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK

6 Scottish Imaging Network, A Platform for Scientific Excellence (SINAPSE), Edinburgh, UK

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Citation and License

BMC Geriatrics 2013, 13:20  doi:10.1186/1471-2318-13-20

Published: 28 February 2013



Two important consequences of the normal ageing process are sarcopenia (the age-related loss of muscle mass and function) and age-related cognitive decline. Existing data support positive relationships between muscle function, cognition and brain structure. However, studies investigating these relationships at older ages are lacking and rarely include a measure of muscle size. Here we test whether neck muscle size is positively associated with cognition and brain structure in older men.


We studied 51 healthy older men with mean age 73.8 (sd 1.5) years. Neck muscle cross-sectional area (CSA) was measured from T1-weighted MR-brain scans using a validated technique. We measured multiple cognitive domains including verbal and visuospatial memory, executive functioning and estimated prior cognitive ability. Whole brain, ventricular, hippocampal and cerebellar volumes were measured with MRI. General linear models (ANCOVA) were performed.


Larger neck muscle CSA was associated with less whole brain atrophy (t = 2.86, p = 0.01, partial eta squared 17%). Neck muscle CSA was not associated with other neuroimaging variables or current cognitive ability. Smaller neck muscle CSA was unexpectedly associated with higher prior cognition (t = −2.12, p < 0.05, partial eta squared 10%).


In healthy older men, preservation of whole brain volume (i.e. less atrophy) is associated with larger muscle size. Longitudinal ageing studies are now required to investigate these relationships further.

Sarcopenia; Cognition; Aging; Muscle cross-sectional area; Brain volume