Lower Working Memory Performance in Overweight and Obese Adolescents Is Mediated by White Matter Microstructure

Gabriela Alarcón, Siddharth Ray, Bonnie J. Nagel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

50 Scopus citations


Objectives: Elevated body mass index (BMI) is associated with deficits in working memory, reduced gray matter volume in frontal and parietal lobes, as well as changes in white matter (WM) microstructure. The current study examined whether BMI was related to working memory performance and blood oxygen level dependent (BOLD) activity, as well as WM microstructure during adolescence. Methods: Linear regressions with BMI and (1) verbal working memory BOLD signal, (2) spatial working memory BOLD signal, and (3) fractional anisotropy (FA), a measure of WM microstructure, were conducted in a sample of 152 healthy adolescents ranging in BMI. Results: BMI was inversely related to IQ and verbal and spatial working memory accuracy; however, there was no significant relationship between BMI and BOLD response for either verbal or spatial working memory. Furthermore, BMI was negatively correlated with FA in the left superior longitudinal fasciculus (SLF) and left inferior longitudinal fasciculus (ILF). ILF FA and IQ significantly mediated the relationship between BMI and verbal working memory performance, whereas SLF FA, but not IQ, significantly mediated the relationship between BMI and accuracy of both verbal and spatial working memory. Conclusions: These findings indicate that higher BMI is associated with decreased FA in WM fibers connecting brain regions that support working memory, and that WM microstructural deficits may underlie inferior working memory performance in youth with higher BMI. Of interest, BMI did not show the same relationship with working memory BOLD activity, which may indicate that changes in brain structure precede changes in function.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)281-292
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of the International Neuropsychological Society
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jan 28 2016


  • Adolescent development
  • Body mass index
  • Diffusion tensor imaging
  • Executive function
  • Magnetic resonance imaging
  • Multimodal imaging

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Neuroscience
  • Clinical Psychology
  • Clinical Neurology
  • Psychiatry and Mental health


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