Background: Vision-based speed of processing (VSOP) training can result in broad cognitive
improvements in older adults with amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI). What remains unknown,
however, is what neurophysiological mechanisms account for the observed training effect. Much
of the work in this area has focused on the central nervous system, neglecting the fact that the peripheral
system can contributes to changes of the central nervous system and vice versa.
Objective: We examined the prospective relationship between an adaptive parasympathetic nervous system
response to cognitive stimuli and VSOP training-induced plasticity.
Method: Twenty-one participants with aMCI (10 for VSOP training, and 11 for mental leisure activities
(MLA) control) were enrolled. We assessed high-frequency heart rate variability (HF-HRV) during
training sessions, and striatum-related neural networks and cognition at baseline and post-training.
Results: Compared to MLA, the VSOP group showed a significant U-shaped pattern of HF-HRV response
during training, as well as decreases in connectivity strength between bilateral striatal and
prefrontal regions. These two effects were associated with training-induced improvements in both the
trained (attention and processing speed) and transferred (working memory) cognitive domains.
Conclusion: This work provides novel support for interactions between the central and the peripheral
nervous systems in relation to cognitive training, and motivates further studies to elucidate the causality
of the observed link.