Reference ability neural networks and behavioral performance across the adult life span

Habeck, Christian G.; Eich, Teal; Razlighi, Ray; Gazes, Yunglin; Stern, Yaakov

To better understand the impact of aging, along with other demographic and brain health variables, on the neural networks that support different aspects of cognitive performance, we applied a brute-force search technique based on Principal Components Analysis to derive 4 corresponding spatial covariance patterns (termed Reference Ability Neural Networks –RANNs) from a large sample of participants across the age range. 255 clinically healthy, community-dwelling adults, aged 20–77, underwent fMRI while performing 12 tasks, 3 tasks for each of the following cognitive reference abilities: Episodic Memory, Reasoning, Perceptual Speed, and Vocabulary. The derived RANNs (1) showed selective activation to their specific cognitive domain and (2) correlated with behavioral performance. Quasi out-of-sample replication with Monte-Carlo 5-fold cross validation was built into our approach, and all patterns indicated their corresponding reference ability and predicted performance in held-out data to a degree significantly greater than chance level. RANN-pattern expression for Episodic Memory, Reasoning and Vocabulary were associated selectively with age, while the pattern for Perceptual Speed showed no such age-related influences. For each participant we also looked at residual activity unaccounted for by the RANN-pattern derived for the cognitive reference ability. Higher residual activity was associated with poorer brain-structural health and older age, but –apart from Vocabulary-not with cognitive performance, indicating that older participants with worse brain-structural health might recruit alternative neural resources to maintain performance levels.


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June 15, 2021