Category Archives: Uncategorized

Blood serotonin levels may be crucial to regulating emotional responses

By Dr. Yacila Deza-Araujo

(posted 11th May 2021)

yacila-deza-araujoSerotonin – a neurotransmitter which helps regulate emotional well-being and other important physiological functions – can decrease in the brain as we age. Although this statement is still a matter of debate [1, 2], we know that several studies have observed less availability of this neurotransmitter in specific parts of the ageing brain [2].

Similarly, clinical studies have demonstrated that some symptoms of depression in older adults become less pronounced after treatments that boost brain serotonin availability. Therefore, the popular belief that serotonin is the ’happiness hormone’ is not far from the truth.

Our study [3] was led by  the Silver Santé Study’s Emotion Work Package in close relation with the blood markers workgroup (namely Géraldine Poisnel and Anne Chocat), using data from the Age-Well trial. In this context, our study shows that the blood levels of serotonin may be crucial to regulate the activity of some brain areas associated with emotional responses.

Specifically, we observed that participants with lower levels of serotonin in their blood have more brain activity in certain parts of the brain when viewing videos depicting others suffering. These brain regions are well known to be implicated in the processing of salient emotional stimuli (i.e., insula), in the regulation of strong emotions (i.e., dorsal anterior cingulate cortex) and in the expression of sadness (i.e., subgenual cingulate cortex).

This discovery might also give us some idea of the level of empathy that the participants experienced when observing these videos. Interestingly, however, we did not see any relation between blood serotonin and behavioural measures of emotions and prosocial behaviour -“voluntary actions that are intended to help or benefit another individual or group of individuals” [4]. Before our study, the relationship between serotonin in the blood and emotional brain activity had only been investigated in patients with depression and younger people. Our study investigated for the first time, this relationship in older adults.

We are confident that our results, as well as other findings from the Silver Santé Study, will contribute to increasing the understanding of determinant factors that might improve the mental well-being of older adults and therefore decrease the risk of mood disorders and dementia.


1.            Rosa-Neto, P., et al., Brain regional alpha-[11C]methyl-L-tryptophan trapping, used as an index of 5-HT synthesis, in healthy adults: absence of an age effect. Eur J Nucl Med Mol Imaging, 2007. 34(8): p. 1254-64.

2.            Karrer, T.M., et al., Reduced serotonin receptors and transporters in normal aging adults: a meta-analysis of PET and SPECT imaging studies. Neurobiology of Aging, 2019. 80: p. 1-10.

3.            Deza-Araujo, Y.I., et al., Whole blood serotonin levels in healthy elderly are negatively associated with the functional activity of emotion-related brain regions. Biol Psychol, 2021. 160: p. 108051.

4.         Eisenberg, N and Mussen, P H. The Roots of Prosocial Behavior in Children. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989: p 3.

Silver Santé students showcase their research at ‘mini’ consortium meeting

Students and post-docs working on the Silver Santé Study will be sharing and showcasing their work with peers and supervisors at a ‘mini’ project consortium meeting.

The online meeting, organized by the participants themselves, will include more than 20 presentations from students working in France, the UK, Belgium, Switzerland, and Germany covering an exciting and varied array of topics grouped around the project’s work packages.

PhD student, Francesca Felisatti, of the University of Caen, who is one of the organisers, said: “The ‘mini meeting’ promises to be the ideal platform to share ongoing developments with peers and supervisors alike, and is a great opportunity to promote the work we are each doing.”

Co-organiser, Tim Whitfield, a PhD student at UCL, said: “I am thrilled that the Medit-Ageing students have been given the opportunity to conduct our own conference. The scientific standard of student and post-doc projects is very high, and I wait with excitement for their presentations at the forthcoming event!”

The one-day meeting will be followed by the project’s final full consortium meeting in June.

Some of the postgraduate students who will be taking part in the ‘mini’ consortium meeting.

Quality of life and brain health in older adults

By Valentin Ourry

(posted 16th March 2021)

Ageing well is not just having good cognitive and brain health, it is also having good physical and mental health – a good quality of life.

The World Health Organization defines quality of life as “individuals’ perceptions of their position in life in the context of the culture and value systems in which they live and in relation to their goals, expectations, standards and concerns”. This  encompasses many aspects – or domains – including physical health, psychological health, social relationships, as well as our relationship with the environment [1].

As we age, quality of life can decrease [2]. Interestingly, previous studies have shown that better quality of life is related to greater brain volume in older adults [3], [4]. However, these studies did not look at the multi-faceted domains of quality of life with multimodal brain measurements. Yet this is crucial to better understand the mechanisms of the relationship between quality of life and brain health, and more specifically: i) to identify the specific aspect of quality of life that is more related to brain health, and ii) to provide a comprehensive overview of the nature of the relationship.

In our study [5], we included the 135 participants of the Age-Well cohort from the Medit-Ageing project. Participants completed a multi-domain quality of life questionnaire devised by the World Health Organization. Using a range of neuroimaging techniques, we were able to obtain their detailed brain characteristics: grey matter volume (density of neurons), white matter microstructural integrity (density of axons), perfusion (quality of blood circulation) and amyloid deposition (one of the biomarkers of Alzheimer’s disease). We then assessed whether there were any links between each quality of life domain and each brain characteristic. Interestingly, we found that better quality of life, particularly physical health, was related to brain structures (greater grey matter volume and white matter microstructural integrity) in regions relevant to ageing. No link was found with brain perfusion or amyloid deposition. The results highlight the relevance of monitoring and promoting quality of life in the older population, and particularly self-perceived physical health.

Better understanding the relationship between quality of life and brain health in ageing is an important part of the Medit-Ageing project. This is because we believe that mental training may help us to age well and maintain a good quality of life – one of the main goals of the Medit-Ageing project.


[1]       The WHOQOL Group, “Development of the WHOQOL: Rationale and Current Status,” International Journal of Mental Health, vol. 23, no. 3, pp. 24–56, Sep. 1994, doi: 10.1080/00207411.1994.11449286.

[2]       G. Netuveli, R. D. Wiggins, Z. Hildon, S. M. Montgomery, and D. Blane, “Quality of life at older ages: evidence from the English longitudinal study of aging (wave 1),” Journal of Epidemiology & Community Health, vol. 60, no. 4, pp. 357–363, Apr. 2006, doi: 10.1136/jech.2005.040071.

[3]       V. Elderkin-Thompson, M. Ballmaier, G. Hellemann, D. Pham, H. Lavretsky, and A. Kumar, “Daily Functioning and Prefrontal Brain Morphology in Healthy and Depressed Community-Dwelling Elderly,” The American Journal of Geriatric Psychiatry, vol. 16, no. 8, pp. 633–642, Aug. 2008, doi: 10.1097/JGP.0b013e3181794629.

[4]       S. Hahm, M. Lotze, M. Domin, and S. Schmidt, “The association of health-related quality of life and cerebral gray matter volume in the context of aging: A voxel-based morphometry study with a general population sample,” NeuroImage, vol. 191, pp. 470–480, May 2019, doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2019.02.035.

[5]       V. Ourry et al., “Association of quality of life with structural, functional and molecular brain imaging in community-dwelling older adults,” NeuroImage, vol. 231, p. 117819, May 2021, doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2021.117819.

Older adults with lower blood serotonin levels show more emotional BRain reactivity when they face other people’s suffering, new Silver Santé research reveals

New research published by Silver Santé Study researchers has revealed that older people who have lower blood serotonin levels have more activity in brain regions associated with emotional reactivity, when they face the suffering of others.

The research, published in Biological Psychology, measured the blood serotonin levels of healthy older adults and then measured brain activity while they watched videos of people suffering. The 135 participants watched a series of documentary video clips showing people suffering both emotionally and physically while inside an fMRI scanner so that the immediate effects could be measured.

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter present in both brain and blood which helps regulate mental well-being and other important physiological functions. Low levels of serotonin are associated with depression. The full details of the study can be viewed here.

Yacila Deza-Araujo, of the University of Geneva, who led the research, said: “These results are very exciting because they show that lower levels of circulating serotonin could also indicate a decreased availability of this neurotransmitter on a brain level. This would explain the higher response of emotion-related brain regions when participants see videos of people suffering”.

 “This is interesting because to date, the relationship between serotonin and emotional brain activity was only investigated with pharmacological interventions and mostly, in younger adults. Our study shows, for the first time, the same association in older adults which is particularly important to understand the higher predisposition to depression and anxiety in this population”.

The Silver Santé Study is a 5-year EU-funded study investigating the mental health and well-being of Europe’s ageing population. It is also investigating whether mental training techniques, such as learning a language or practicing meditation, can help safeguard mental health in later life. To find out more about the study click here.

The fMRI scanner at Cyceron, France, where the Age Well trial participants were scanned.

Edelweiss Touron victorious in Great Silver Santé Study Thesis Challenge!

PhD student, Edelweiss Touron, was crowned the winner of the project’s Great Silver Santé Study Thesis Challenge after impressing the judges with her clear, concise and well delivered thesis entitled ‘Is the cup half full or half empty?’.

Edelweiss, of the University of Caen, was one of 11 students from France, Belgium, and the UK working on the project to enter the competition. She impressed the judges with her presentation on the association of subclinical depressive symptoms with brain changes in healthy adults for its use of analogies, clear scientific explanation, and excellent presentation skills.  

Harriet Demnitz-King, of UCL, was awarded second place for her presentation on the association between repetitive negative thinking and markers of Alzheimer’s disease. In third place was Francesca Felisatti, of the University of Caen for her presentation entitled ‘All roads lead to Rome’ for which she also won the ‘audience choice’ award, voted on by all participants in the consortium meeting.  

The judges – Eric Salmon of the University of Liège, Rhonda Smith of Minerva UK, and Olga Klimecki of University of Geneva – praised the students for the excellent standard of the presentations overall and said it was extremely difficult to choose the winner.

To video Edelweiss’s winning presentation click on the image below.

Silver Santé Study partners share progress in online annual meeting

Partners from the 11 institutions in six countries that make up the Silver Santé Study consortium gathered online to share progress in their research as part of the project’s annual meeting.

The Zoom meeting, which took place in October, involved more than 40 people from the UK, Spain, Switzerland, Belgium, Germany and France – all updating each other on the latest advances in their research and support work towards the goal of learning about how to safeguard mental health and well-being in the ageing population. The meeting also included an ‘elevator-pitch’ workshop devised and hosted by the project’s communications partner, Minerva UK.

Dr Géraldine Poisnel, of the coordinating team at Inserm, France, who organised the meeting, said: “This was our first online consortium meeting, due to the Covid restrictions, but it was wonderful to get all the partners and their teams together to discuss progress, make decisions as a group and make plans for the final stages of this important project.”

The project, which is due to end on December 31st 2020, has applied to the EC for a six-month extension due to the delays caused by the Covid pandemic and is awaiting news of the decision.

The Silver Santé Study consortium partners taking part in their annual meeting online in October 2020.

Final round of Age Well follow-up visits planned to start in January 2021

Wave 1 participants in our Age Well clinical trial are being invited to attend Cyceron for their fourth and final round of follow-up tests in January 2021.

The 42 participants, all aged 65+, have kindly agreed to take part in this additional round of tests to further strengthen validation of the trial by studying whether the effects of mental training techniques persist over time.

The group, all based in Caen, France, have been helping our expert researchers learn more about mental health & well-being in the ageing population. After taking part in a series of baseline tests, each volunteer was randomly assigned to one of three groups – an English language course, a meditation course, or a control group in which participants made no changes to their lifestyle.

Project Coordinator Dr Gaël Chételat, of Cyceron, says: “The safety and well-being or all our participants is our primary concern, which is why the follow-up visits were postponed until January.

“We will be constantly monitoring the situation and the visits will only go ahead if we are confident we can properly safeguard the health the volunteers who have kindly devoted so much of their time to helping us learn more about mental health in the ageing population.”

Blood tests, neuroimaging scans and questionnaires have been used by our expert researchers to assess the impact of the mental training techniques on the brain. The volunteers’ lifestyle habits – such as sleep, diet, physical exercise and emotions – have also been monitored.

Final follow-up tests for participants in waves 2 and 3 are expected to take place in September 2021 and February 2022, respectively.

An AGE WELL participant takes part in a newuroimagin test at Cyceron, France.

Project featured in series of France 3 ‘ageing well’ documentaries

Participants and researchers from our AGE WELL clinical trial in Caen, France, have appeared in a series of films aired on France 3 in Normandy.

The series, which focused on ‘ageing well’, included five programmes – each five minutes long – which featured interviews with AGE WELL participants, details of the tests they are undergoing, and interviews with project researchers including Dr Gaël Chételat, Dr Géraldine Poisnel, and Dr Géraldine Rauchs at Cyceron in Caen.

To view the French language films, visit the France 3 page about the programme here.

Volunteers taking part in an English class as part of the Age Well trial

Silver Santé Study data sharing now available

Silver Santé Study is sharing data from its two clinical trials – AGE WELL and SCD WELL – with other research projects working in the field of mental health.

The study’s consortium partners have agreed a policy of data sharing with the aim of sharing knowledge with other researchers to further efforts to improve the mental health of our population and to prevent mental health conditions such as dementia.

Anyone wishing to access the data must first submit a data sharing request to the project’s Executive Committee. For full details of how to request the data, please visit our data sharing page.

An SCD Well participant completes a questionnaire about taking part in the study.

The Great Silver Santé Thesis Challenge

PhD students working on the Silver Santé Study will be putting their presentation skills to the test as part of a thesis contest to be held during the project’s annual consortium meeting.

The competition – called the Great Silver Santé Thesis Challenge – will take place during the online meeting in October and will see 11 PhD students from France, Germany, Belgium and the UK present their thesis to all the consortium partners.

Each student will present their thesis live during the meeting over a maximum of three minutes and will be judged on the presentation content, how well they convey their research and results, the impact it creates and their presentation skills.

In addition, all meeting participants – which will include representatives from all 11 partner organisations in 6 countries – will get to vote for an ‘audience choice’ winner.

The winners will be announced via social media and here on our news page after the consortium meeting on 12-13 October.

Some of the postgraduate students who will be taking part in the Great Silver Santé Thesis Challenge.

« Older Entries