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Cortical thickness is linked to executive functioning in adulthood and aging

by Agnieszka Z. Burzynska, Irene E. Nagel, Claudia Preuschhof, Sebastian Gluth, Lars B??ckman, Shu Chen Li, Ulman Lindenberger, Hauke R. Heekeren
Human Brain Mapping ()

Abstract

Executive functions that are dependent upon the frontal-parietal network decline considerably during the course of normal aging. To delineate neuroanatomical correlates of age-related executive impairment, we investigated the relation between cortical thickness and executive functioning in 73 younger (20-32 years) and 56 older (60-71 years) healthy adults. Executive functioning was assessed using the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test (WCST). Cortical thickness was measured at each location of the cortical mantle using surface-based segmentation procedures on high-resolution T1-weighted magnetic resonance images. For regions involved in WCST performance, such as the lateral prefrontal and parietal cortices, we found that thicker cortex was related to higher accuracy. Follow-up ROI-based analyses revealed that these associations were stronger in older than in younger adults. Moreover, among older adults, high and low performers differed in cortical thickness within regions generally linked to WCST performance. Our results indicate that the structural cortical correlates of executive functioning largely overlap with previously identified functional patterns. We conclude that structural preservation of relevant brain regions is associated with higher levels of executive performance in old age, and underscore the need to consider the heterogeneity of brain aging in relation to cognitive functioning.

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