Task‐based functional connectivity in aging: How task and connectivity methodology affect discovery of age effects

Varangis Burns, Eleanna Martha; Habeck, Christian G.; Stern, Yaakov

Introduction: Past studies have found that healthy aging has a significant effect on the organization and function of networks in the human brain. Many of these studies have examined how functional connectivity during one task or at rest is affected by aging; however, few studies have systematically examined how the effect of age on functional connectivity may vary as a function of choice of in‐scanner task.

Methods: The present study included healthy adults between the ages of 20 and 80 and examined a variety of metrics of functional connectivity during performance of 11 in‐scanner tasks, falling into 4 cognitive domains: vocabulary, processing speed, fluid reasoning, and episodic memory. Functional connectivity was assessed at three levels: average correlations within and between 10 networks, system segregation (sensorimotor vs. association networks), and whole‐brain graph theory metrics (global efficiency and modularity).

Results: Results showed that the effect of age on these metrics differed as a function of task—for example, age had a more consistent effect on functional connectivity metrics computed during fluid reasoning tasks; however, there was less of an effect of age on functional connectivity metrics computed during tasks of episodic memory. Further, some of these measures showed relationships with behavioral performance on the in‐scanner task, with different networks playing a role in the different cognitive domains.

Conclusion: These findings suggest that while aging may be generally associated with reductions in within‐ and between‐network connectivity, system segregation, global efficiency, and modularity, the magnitude and presence of these effects varies by in‐scanner task.


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Brain and Behavior

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May 4, 2021