Prefrontal cortex, PM2.5, PM10UK, Biobank, Air pollution


Background: Infectious diseases might affect cognitive aging and dementia risk, possibly via neuroinflammation. Similarly, risk factors for cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases are associated with cognitive function and dementia. We hypothesized that cardiovascular risk factors moderate the association of exposure to infectious diseases with cognitive function.

Methods: We studied 5662 participants aged 20 to 59 years from the third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (1988–1994) in the United States. We used linear regression to investigate whether the Framingham general cardiovascular risk index moderated the association of infection burden based on exposure to eight different infectious diseases with cognitive functioning as measured by the Symbol Digit Substitution, Serial Digit Learning, and Reaction Time tests. Results The multiplicative interaction between the infection-burden index and the cardiovascularrisk index was associated with performance on the Symbol Digit Substitution (B = .019 [95% CI: .008, .031], p < .001) but not on the Serial Digit Learning (B = .034 [95% CI: -.025, .094]) or for Reaction Time (B = -.030 [95% CI: -.848, .787]). Participants with a lower cardiovascular risk appeared to be more resilient against the potential adverse effects of higher infection burden on the Symbol Digit Substitution task.

Conclusions: Participants at zero risk for a cardiovascular event in the next 10 years had no differences in processing speed with increasing exposure to infectious disease, whereas participants with higher risk for a cardiovascular event had worse processing speed with increased exposure to infectious disease.

Document Type

Peer-Reviewed Article

Publication Date


Permanent URL


Hedges et al.




Family, Home, and Social Sciences



Included in

Psychology Commons