Maria Natasha Rajah

Human Neuroscience

Maria Natasha Rajah

GH-2114, Brain Imaging Centre

6875 Boulevard LaSalle
Montréal, QC
H4H 1R3

Full Professor, Department of Psychiatry, McGill University
Associate Member, Department of Psychology, McGill University

Cognitive neuroscience of memory, aging and dementia prevention

Our lab, led by Natasha Rajah, conducts behavioural and neuroimaging studies in the cognitive neuroscience of memory, aging and dementia prevention. We use structural and functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) methods to investigate how biological and demographic variables (i.e. biological sex, genetics, sex hormones, education, bilingualism, etc.) impact the neural networks mediating episodic memory encoding and retrieval across the adult lifespan.  We also conduct parallel studies in adults with risk factors for late-onset Alzheimer’s disease.

The goals of our research program are to understand:

  • How does the brain encode and retrieve episodic memories?
  • How does healthy aging impact the neural correlates of learning and memory across the adult lifespan?
  • How does biological sex, stress, hormones and lifestyle factors influence cognitive and brain function as we age?
  • How do these changes differ in adults at-risk vs. not at-risk of AD?
  • What differentiates older adults who perform as well as young adults on memory tasks (high-performers), from those who exhibit age-related memory decline?

  1. Snytte, J., Elshiekh, A., Subramaniapillai, S.,Manning, L., Pasvanis, S.,  Devenyi, G., Olsen, R.K. and  M. N. Rajah (2020). The ratio of posterior-anterior medial temporal lobe volumes predicts source memory performance in healthy young adults. 
    Hippocampus, published online first, 1-19, DOI: 10.1002/hipo.23251.
  2. Elshiekh, A., Subramaniapillai, S, Rajagopal, S., Pasvanis, S., Ankudowich, E. A. and M. N. Rajah (2020). The association between cognitive reserve and performance-related brain activity during episodic encoding and retrieval across the adult lifespan. Cortex, 129, 296-313.
  3. Rabipour, S., Rajagopal, S., Yu, E., Pasvanis, S., Lafaille-Magnan, M.E., Breitner, J., PREVENT-AD Group, and Rajah, M.N. (2020). APOE4 status is related to differences in memory-related brain function in asymptomatic older adults with family history of Alzheimer’s disease: Baseline analysis of the PREVENT-AD task fMRI dataset. Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, 76 (1), 97-119.
  4. Subramaniapillai, S., Rajagopal, S., Elshiekh, A., Pasvanis, S., Ankudowich, E. A. and Rajah, M. N. (2019). The neural correlates of age-related spatial context memory decline differ in women, compared to men. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 31 (12), 1895-1916.
  5. Ankudowich,E., Pasvanis,S. ,& Rajah,M.N. (2018).Age-related differences in prefrontal-hippocampal connectivity are associated with reduced spatial context memory. Psychology and Aging, 34 (2), 251-261.
  6. Cabeza, R., Albert, M., Belleville, S., Craik, F., Duarte, A., Grady, C. L., Lindenberger, U., Nyberg, L, Park, D., Reuter-Lorenz, P. A., Rugg, M. D., Steffener, J., and M. N. Rajah (2018). Maintenance, reserve, and compensation: the cognitive neuroscience of healthy ageing. Nature Reviews: Neuroscience, 19 (11), 701-710.
  7. Rajah, M. N. , Wallace, L., Manning, L., Patel, R., Yu, E., Swierkot, A., Ankudowich, E., Naumova, D., Pruessner, J., Joober, R., Gauthier, S. & Pasvanis, S., (2017). The impact of AD risk-factors on the neural correlates of spatial context memory at midlife.  Neuroimage: Clinical, 14, 760-777.
  8. Ankudowich, E., Pasvanis, S. & Rajah, M. N. (2017). Changes in the correlation between spatial and temporal source memory performance and BOLD activity across the adult lifespan. Cortex, Special Issue “Cognitive Neuroscience of Source Memory” edited by K. Mitchell & S.E. MacPherson, 91, 234-249.
  9. Ankudowich, E., Pasvanis, S. & Rajah, M. N. (2016) Changes in the modulation of brain activity during context encoding vs. context retrieval across the adult lifespan. Neuroimage, 139, 103-113.
  10. Maillet, D., & Rajah, M. N. (2016). Assessing the neural correlates of task-unrelated thoughts during episodic encoding and their association with subsequent memory in young and older adults. Journal of Cognitive Neuroscience, 28 (6), 826-841.
  11. Kwon, D.*, Maillet, D.*, Pasvanis, S., Ankudowich, E., Grady, C. L. & Rajah, M. N.* (2016). Context memory decline in middle aged adults is related to changes in prefrontal cortex function. Cerebral Cortex, 26(6), 2440-2460. *Authors contributed equivalently to the writing of this manuscript.
  12. Maillet, D. & Rajah, M. N. (2014). Age-related differences in brain activity in the subsequent memory paradigm: A meta-analysis. Neuroscience and Biobehavioral Reviews, 45, 246-57.
  13. Rajah, M. N., Languay, R.  and Grady C.L. (2011). Age-related changes in right middle frontal gyrus volumes and its impact on retrieval-related activity and retrieval accuracy. Journal of Neuroscience, 31(49), 17941-54.
  14. Rajah, M. N., Languay, R., and Valiquette, L. (2010) Age-related changes in prefrontal cortex activity are associated with behavioural deficits in both temporal and spatial context memory retrieval in older adults. Cortex, 46, 535-549.
  15. Rajah, M. N., and D’Esposito, M. (2005). Region specific changes in prefrontal function with age: a review of PET and fMRI aging studies on working memory and episodic memory. Brain, 128:1964-83. 

Dr. M. Natasha Rajah received her Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology from the University of Toronto in 2003 and did her post-doctoral training at U.C. Berkeley, 2003-2005. She joined the Douglas Institute in 2005 as Assistant Professor at the Department of Psychiatry. In 2007, she was awarded a prestigious CIHR New Investigator Salary Award and in 2009 she was promoted to Associate Professor. Dr. Rajah's research is focused on the cognitive neuroscience of memory and aging. In 2011 Dr. Rajah was promoted to Director of the Douglas Brain Imaging Centre. Dr. Rajah currently holds a FRQ-S Junior 2 Research Scholar Award.

1. Fonds de Recherche du Québec - Santé (FRQ-S), Junior 2 Salary Award, 2013-2015
2. John R. & Clara M. Fraser Memorial Award, 2012-2013
3. Selected for “Top 50 under 50” by Quebec Science Magazine, 2012
4. Canadian Institute of Health Research (CIHR), New Investigator Salary Award, 2007-2012
5. Fonds de la Recherche en Santé Québec (FRSQ), Junior 1 Salary Award, 2007-2010
6. Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council Postdoctoral Fellowship (PDF), 2002-2004
7. Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council Postgraduate Scholarship (PGS B), 2000-2002
8. Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council Postgraduate Scholarship (PGS A), 1998-2000
9. Travel Award, Organization for Human Brain Mapping, 2000

Graduate Students

  • Sivaniya Subramaniapillai,  Ph.D. Student, Psychology 
  • Abdel Halim Elshiekh, Ph.D. Student, IPN Program
  • Jamie Snytte, M.Sc. Student, IPN Program

Undergraduate Student

  • Camille Beaudoin

Research Assistants

  • Stamatoula Pasvanis (2014-current)
  •  Myles LoParco (2019-current)


Previous RAs

  • Maria del Pilar Fajardo
  • Angela Potes
  • Luc Valiquette, M.A. (now a Conseil multidisciplinaire at Louis-H. Lafontaine)
  • Rafael Languay (now a Pharmacy student at Université de Montreal)
  • Claire Han (now an IPN graduate student with Jorge Armony)
  • Lauren Crawford (now applying for medical school)
  • Sidney Pinto (now an HR manager)

Previous Students

  • Elizabeth Ankudowich, Ph.D. Student, IPN (now Grants Officer, NIH)
  • Lyssa Manning, M.Sc. Student, IPN (now RA with Dr. R. Sperling, Harvard University)
  • Rachel Hum, Undergraduate Volunteer (now in Chiropractor's College)
  • Kiera Hooper, Undergraduate Honour Student (now completing her B.Sc. at McGill University)
  • Lesley Wu, Undergraduate Honours Student (now applying to graduate school)
  • Daniel Davies, Undergraduate Honours Student (now in Medical School, U. of Toronto)
  • David Maillet, Ph.D. (now a Post-doc at Rotman Research Institute)
  • Karina Borja, M.Sc. (now Ph.D. student at Netherlands Institute for Neuroscience)
  • Dave Crane, M.Sc. (now a MRI scientist, Sunnybrook Hospital)
  • Renee Gordon, Post-doc (now Medical Writer, New Zealand)
  • Michelle Kromas, Undergraduate Student (now a medical student)
  • Diana Kwon, M.Sc., (now a Scientific Writer, Chicago, USA)
  • Alexander Swierkot, M.Sc. (now in Medical school, McGill University)
  • Lindsay Wallace, M.Sc. (now Ph.D. student at Dalhousie University)
  • Jackie Lam, Undergraduate Student (applying to graduate school) 
  • Hannah Restle, Undergraduate Student (applying for graduate school)
  • Idil Kilinc, Undergraduate Student (applying for clinical psychology programs)

Recent publications