Alzheimer's Disease: Exercise Therapy and Brain Networks (2021-2022)


More than five million Americans are afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease. This number is expected to escalate, as the proportion of older Americans continues to rise. Age, apolipoprotein E (APOE-ε4) and chromosomal sex are well-established risk factors.

Because Alzheimer’s disease has both genetic and environmental causes, considerable research has focused on environmental factors including lifestyle and nutrition as potential therapeutic interventions that might delay or prevent neuropathology and cognitive decline. Recent advances have provided clinical evidence for the efficacy of exercise in preserving brain function in aging humans.

Mouse models provide opportunities to study characteristics of Alzheimer’s disease in well-controlled environments that can help facilitate development of early interventions. In vivo magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) can be used in both humans and mice to identify vulnerable circuits that may predict cognitive decline.

Project Description

This project team will examine brain structure and function in transgenic mice that develop symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease, evaluate whether menopause accelerates cognitive decline and neuropathogenesis and assess whether chronic exercise can mitigate this risk.

Team members will develop protocols and collect data to determine if functional MRI changes in the brain can be seen as Alzheimer’s disease progresses, by training mice to find one odor negative and aversive and a second odor positive and appetitive. Mice will then be anesthetized and presented with these odors plus a novel odor during MRI scanning. Once these procedures are verified and brain functional changes detected, the team can examine various models and their controls and determine the effect of exercise therapy and/or menopause. 

To answer these complex questions, team members will be involved in all aspects of the project from developing devices and research protocols, to piloting behavioral training procedures, to developing programs for data acquisition and analysis, to examining postmortem brain tissue. For example, the team will design animal support beds, test novel odor delivery instruments and seek to build simple MRI signal detection probes.

Team members will also focus on outreach by developing and populating a website to explain the project and share programs, data and analyses.

Learn more about this project team by viewing the team's video.

Anticipated Outputs

Final report/poster for science meeting; public presentation or website; methodology for analyzing imaging and data; apparatus for delivering odors to mice during imaging


Summer 2021 – Summer 2022

  • Summer 2021 (optional): Complete all needed online training and background checks to do animal research
  • Fall 2021: Start project components and weekly team meetings; take NEUROSCI 278: Sex/Gender: Nature/Nurture course (new team members); do a neuroscience practicum or independent study to learn basic methods and begin data collection (new team members); continue lab research as part of a senior thesis project (optional for continuing team members)
  • Spring 2022: Continue doing background reading, hands-on laboratory work; collect and analyze data; draft possible article for a journal; create shared website for presenting work to public; work on correlations and collaboration between component parts
  • Summer 2022 (optional): Complete data collection and focus on analysis for 35 hours/week for 6-8 weeks; develop website and outreach presentation; develop protocols for follow-up projects


Janai Williams

This Team in the News

Meet the Members of the 2021-2022 Bass Connections Student Advisory Council

Female-Led Team Investigates Increased Alzheimer’s Risk in Women

See related teams, Alzheimer's Disease: Exercise Therapy and Brain Networks (2022-2023) and Exercise Therapy and Brain Networks: Implications for Alzheimer's Disease (2020-2021).


Team Leaders

  • Alexandra Badea, School of Medicine-Radiology
  • Christina L. Williams, Arts & Sciences-Psychology and Neuroscience
  • Janai Williams, Arts and Sciences–Psychology and Neuroscience–Ph.D. Student

/undergraduate Team Members

  • Akhil Bedapudi, Biomedical Engineering (BSE)
  • Nikhil Gadiraju, Biomedical Engineering (BSE)
  • Melinda Guo, Neuroscience (BS)
  • Jasmine King
  • Pradnesh Kolluru
  • Anna MacFarlane, Neuroscience (BS)
  • Isabella Pansini, Neuroscience (BS)
  • Divya Reddy, Biology (BS)
  • Eileen Wen, Neuroscience (BS), Economics (BS2)

/yfaculty/staff Team Members

  • Carol Colton, School of Medicine-Neurology
  • Jacques Stout, School of Medicine-Brain Imaging and Analysis Center
  • Ara Wilson, Arts & Sciences-Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies