Faculty Directory

Agnieszka Z. Burzynska (Aga)

Aga Burzynska, PhD

Assistant Professor of Human Development and Family Studies

Contact Information

405 Behavioral Sciences Building
1570 Campus Delivery
Colorado State University
Fort Collins, CO 80523-1570

Phone: 970-491-4138
Fax: 970-491-7975

The BRAiN Laboratory
E-mail: aga.burzynska@colostate.edu

Research Interests

As a neuroscientist and psychologist, I study the mechanisms of decline, maintenance, and plasticity of cognition, brain structure, and function during the adult lifespan. I focus on assessing the effects of lifestyle interventions (randomized longitudinal control trials with exercise, dance, nutrition) on brain integrity, cognition, and everyday performance. I employ multiple magnetic resonance (MR) neuroimaging techniques to measure white matter (WM) integrity (diffusion tensor (DTI), T2 imaging, and MR elastography), brain volume (surface- and voxel-based morphometry), as well as spontaneous and invoked brain activity (resting state and task-related functional MRI) along with behavioral measurement of cognitive processes.

In my research I aim to integrate multiple MRI modalities to best characterize structure- function relations in the healthy aging and adult brain. I am specifically interested in multimodal and longitudinal assessment of the aging white matter.

My main focus is on the relationships between physical fitness, physical activity and the brain and cognitive health. I am interested in studying both typical low fit and low active aging populations, as well as exceptionally fit and well functioning older adults; for example, we studied the brain of Olga Kotelko, nonagenarian athlete: http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2015/09/02/physed-4/?_r=0. With my collaborators we are one of the first to use objective measures of physical activity in combination with neuroimaging. A related area of my research focuses on the effects of long-term training on the brain, such as in professional dancers (see current projects).


BSc, 2005, Biotechnology, University of Perugia, Italy
MSc, 2007, Neuroscience, International Max Planck Research School in Goettingen, Germany
PhD, 2011, Psychology, International Max Planck Research School of the Lifecourse (LIFE), Humboldt University, Berlin

Honors and Awards

2012-2013 - Fellow, Robert Bosch Foundation, Changing Viewpoints: Young Researchers Give Old Age a New Identity.

2012 - Best Talk finalist, 3rd Annual Postdoctoral Research Symposium at Beckman Institute, Urbana, Illinois.

2011 - Otto-Hahn Medal for outstanding academic achievements, Max Planck Society.

2007-2010 - Fellow, International Max Planck Research School LIFE, Berlin, Germany.

2005-2007 - Fellow, International Max Planck Research School for Neuroscience, Göttingen, Germany.

Current and Recent Research Projects

In the BRAiN lab we are currently working on data analysis from two main projects: FAST and MODERN.

FAST: fit and active older adults (Influence of Fitness on Brain and Cognition, NCT01472744 at nia.nig.gov). The study includes >240 participants of age 60–80 who were randomized into 4 intervention groups (walk, walk+nutrition, dance, and active control). MRI, cognitive, physical fitness and activity data was collected pre and post intervention at UIUC (PIs AF Kramer, E McAuley). We are currently exploring the cross-sectional relationships between neuronal markers if brain health, fitness, and cognitive performance, as well as evaluate the effects of interventions on brain health, with the focus on white matter and structure-function interactions.

MODERN: Brain Structure and Function in Professional Dancers. In this study we evaluate the neural correlates and cognitive/motor benefits of professional dancing training in comparison to age- and education-matched controls with no dancing experience. Although dancing has been associated with lowered risk of dementia and higher motor and cognitive functioning in older adults (Granacher et al., 2012; Kattenstroth et al., 2010, 2011), little is know about the effects that intensive dancing exerts on brain structure and function (Haenggi et al., 2009). We collected MRI (structural, task functional and resting state, DTI, elastography), neuropsychological, balance, and video game data at the Lifelong Brain and Cognition Lab at UIUC (AF Kramer). We are currently analyzing the data. The results of this study will help us make predictions on how dancing may enhance brain integrity in advanced age and lie foundation for future study designs an analyses aiming to promote successful aging.

Professional Experience

2015-present: Assistant Professor (tenure-tract), Department of Human Development and Family Studies, Colorado State University, Fort Collins, Colorado.

2012-2015: Postdoctoral Researcher, Lifelong Brain & Cognition Laboratory, Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Illinois.

2011-2012: Research Scientist, Center for Lifespan Psychology, Max Planck Institute for Human Development, Berlin, Germany.

Selected Publications

Burzynska AZ, Wong CN, Chaddock-Heyman L, Olson EA, Gothe NP, Knecht A, Voss MW, McAuley E, and Kramer AF. White matter integrity, hippocampal volume, and cognitive performance of a world-famous nonagenarian track and field athlete. Neurocase (2015). DOI:10.1080/13554794.2015.1074709

Oberlin LE, Versytnen T, Burzynska AZ, Voss MW, Prakash RS, Chaddock-Heyman L, Wong C, Fanning J, Awick N, Gothe N, White S, Mailey E, Ehlers D, Olson E, Wojcicki T, McAuley W, Kramer AF, Erickson KI. White matter integrity mediates the relationship between cardiorespiratory fitness and spatial working memory in older adults. Neuroimage (in press).

TB Weng, AZ Burzynska; CN Wong; GE Cooke; RClark; J Fanning; EAwick; N Gothe; EA Olson; E McAuley; AF Kramer. Fitness, but not physical activity, is related to functional integrity of brain networks associated with aging. Neuroimage (in press).

AZ Burzynska, Chelsea N Wong, Michelle W Voss, Gillian E Cooke, Neha P Gothe, Jason Fanning, Edward McAuley, and Arthur F Kramer. Physical activity is linked to greater moment-to-moment variability in spontaneous brain activity in older adults. PLoS ONE (2015) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0134819

AZ Burzynska, Wong CN, Voss MW, Cooke GE, McAuley E, Kramer AF (2015). White Matter Integrity Supports BOLD Signal Variability and Cognitive Performance in the Aging Human Brain. PLoS ONE (2015) DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0120315

Wong CN, Chaddock-Heyman L, Voss MW, Burzynska AZ, Basak C, Erickson KI, Prakash RS, Szabo-Reed AN, Phillips SM, Wojcicki T, Mailey EL, McAuley E, Kramer AF. Brain activation during dual-task processing is associated with cardiorespiratory fitness and performance in older adults. Front Aging Neurosci. (2015) 7:154. DOI: 10.3389/fnagi.2015.00154

DD Garrett, IE Nagel, C Preuschhof, AZ Burzynska, J Marchner, S Wiegert, G Jungehülsing, L Nyberg, A Villringer, S-C Li, HR Heekeren, L Bäckman, U Lindenberger. Amphetamine Modulates Brain Signal Variability and Working Memory in Younger and Older Adults. PNAS (2015) DOI: 10.1073/pnas.1504090112.

AZ Burzynska, L Chaddock-Heyman, MW Voss, CN Wong, NP Gothe, EA Olson, A Knecht, A Lewis, G Cooke, TR Wojcicki, J Fanning, HD Chung, E Awick, E McAuley, and AF Kramer. Physical activity and cardiorespiratory fitness are beneficial for White Matter in Low-Fit Older Adults. PLoS ONE (2014) doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0107413

AZ Burzynska, DD Garrett, C Preuschhof, IE Nagel, S-C Li, L Bäckman, HR Heekeren, U Lindenberger. A scaffold for efficiency in the human brain. 2013 Journal of Neuroscience, 33: 17150-17159.

AZ Burzynska, C Preuschhof, L Bäckman, L Nyberg, S-C Li , U Lindenberger, HR Heekeren. Age-related differences in white matter microstructure: Region-specific patterns of diffusivity. 2009 NeuroImage 49:2104–2112.

Center Affiliations

Thematic Research Areas

  • Adult Development & Aging
  • Treatment, Intervention & Prevention Science