Kirk I. Erickson, PhD

Assistant Professor, Psychology


3107 Sennott Square
F: 412-624-4428
Website >


Neuroimaging and cognitive studies of age and health.

Research Summary

My research has focused on understanding the changes in various aspects of cognition, and the supporting brain structure and function, across the lifespan. For example, I have studied the manner in which executive control processes (e.g. planning, scheduling, working memory, inhibition, task coordination) change from early to late adulthood. In this research I have reported substantial individual differences in the rate of change. Some adults experience rapid changes while others show more gradual changes or very little change in function with advancing age. This demonstrates that although cognitive decline and brain atrophy is common in old age, it is far from being inevitable.

Along these lines, my research is also involved in examining the factors that promote successful aging. For example, environmental factors such as vitamin supplementation, physical activity, and hormone replacement influence the trajectory of cognitive decline. Participation in moderate amounts of physical activity can significantly improve cognitive and brain function in older adults. In addition, only 6-months of aerobic exercise was enough to restore lost volume in the prefrontal and temporal cortices.

Genetic factors also play a role in the trajectory of cognitive and brain deterioration in old age. In one recent study we have found that a genetic polymorphism in the BDNF gene contributes to the rate of cognitive decline in old age. We are currently examining how genetic predispositions interact with environmental factors (e.g. physical activity) to influence neurocognitive function in old age.

In short, I take a brain plasticity perspective in the study of age-related patterns of deterioration. My research, from both cross-sectional and randomized intervention studies, has demonstrated that the older adult brain retains its capacity for plasticity.

To examine these research questions, my colleagues and I bring to bear methodologies ranging from reaction time and accuracy, mathematical modeling, and neuroimaging techniques such as functional and anatomical MRI.


Erickson KI, Miller DL, Roecklein KA. The aging hippocampus: interactions between exercise, depression, and BDNF. Neuroscientist, in press).

Erickson KI, Voss, MW, Prakash, RS, Basak, C, Szabo, A, Chaddock, L, Kim, JS, Heo,S, Alves, H, White, SM, Wojcicki, TR, Mailey, E, Vieira, VJ, Martin, SA, Pence, BP, Woods, JA, McAuley, E, Kramer, AF. Exercise training increases size of hippocampus and improves memory. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 108: 3017-22, 2011.

Erickson, KI, Raji, CA, Lopez, OL, Becker, JT, Rosano, C, Newman, AB, Gach, HM, Thompson, PM, Ho, AJ, Kuller, LH. Physical activity predicts gray matter volume in late adulthood: the Cardiovascular Health Study. Neurology. 75: 1415-22, 2010.

Erickson, KI, Prakash, RS, Voss, MW, Chaddock, L, Heo, S, McLaren, M, Pence, BD, Martin, SA, Vieira, VJ, Woods, JA, McAuley, E, Kramer, AF. BDNF is associated with age-related decline in hippocampal volume. Journal of Neuroscience. 30: 5368-75, 2010.

Voss, MW, Prakash, RS, Erickson, KI, Basak, C, Chaddock, L, Kim, JS, Alves, H, Heo, S, Szabo, A, White, SM, Wojcicki, TR, Klamm, E, Gothe, N, Olson, EA, McAuley, E, Kramer, AF. Plasticity of brain networks in a randomized intervention trial of exercise training in older adults. Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, 2: 1-17, 2010.