Aging has a multi-faceted impact on brain structure, brain function and cognitive task performance, but the interaction of these different age-related changes is largely unexplored. We hypothesize that age-related structural changes alter the functional connectivity within the brain, resulting in altered task performance during cognitive challenges. In this neuroimaging study, we used independent components analysis to identify spatial patterns of coordinated functional activity involved in the performance of a verbal delayed item recognition task from 75 healthy young and 37 healthy old adults. Strength of functional connectivity between spatial components was assessed for age group differences and related to speeded task performance. We then assessed whether age-related differences in global brain volume were associated with age-related differences in functional network connectivity. Both age groups used a series of spatial components during the verbal working memory task and the strength and distribution of functional network connectivity between these components differed across the age groups. Poorer task performance, i.e. slower speed with increasing memory load, in the old adults was associated with decreases in functional network connectivity between components comprised of the supplementary motor area and the middle cingulate and between the precuneus and the middle/superior frontal cortex. Advancing age also led to decreased brain volume; however, there was no evidence to support the hypothesis that age-related alterations in functional network connectivity were the result of global brain volume changes. These results suggest that age-related differences in the coordination of neural activity between brain regions partially underlie differences in cognitive performance. © 2012 Steffener et al.
Steffener, J., Habeck, C. G., & Stern, Y. (2012). Age-Related Changes in Task Related Functional Network Connectivity. PLoS ONE, 7(9). https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0044421