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J Neurosci. 2018 Mar 14;38(11):2809-2817. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.3067-17.2018. Epub 2018 Feb 13.

The Longitudinal Trajectory of Default Mode Network Connectivity in Healthy Older Adults Varies As a Function of Age and Is Associated with Changes in Episodic Memory and Processing Speed.

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Memory and Aging Center, Departments of Neurology,
Memory and Aging Center, Departments of Neurology.
Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, California 94143, and.
Departments of Psychiatry and Neurology, David Geffen School of Medicine, University of California Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California 90095.


The default mode network (DMN) supports memory functioning and may be sensitive to preclinical Alzheimer's pathology. Little is known, however, about the longitudinal trajectory of this network's intrinsic functional connectivity (FC). In this study, we evaluated longitudinal FC in 111 cognitively normal older human adults (ages 49-87, 46 women/65 men), 92 of whom had at least three task-free fMRI scans (n = 353 total scans). Whole-brain FC and three DMN subnetworks were assessed: (1) within-DMN, (2) between anterior and posterior DMN, and (3) between medial temporal lobe network and posterior DMN. Linear mixed-effects models demonstrated significant baseline age × time interactions, indicating a nonlinear trajectory. There was a trend toward increasing FC between ages 50-66 and significantly accelerating declines after age 74. A similar interaction was observed for whole-brain FC. APOE status did not predict baseline connectivity or change in connectivity. After adjusting for network volume, changes in within-DMN connectivity were specifically associated with changes in episodic memory and processing speed but not working memory or executive functions. The relationship with processing speed was attenuated after covarying for white matter hyperintensities (WMH) and whole-brain FC, whereas within-DMN connectivity remained associated with memory above and beyond WMH and whole-brain FC. Whole-brain and DMN FC exhibit a nonlinear trajectory, with more rapid declines in older age and possibly increases in connectivity early in the aging process. Within-DMN connectivity is a marker of episodic memory performance even among cognitively healthy older adults.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT Default mode network and whole-brain connectivity, measured using task-free fMRI, changed nonlinearly as a function of age, with some suggestion of early increases in connectivity. For the first time, longitudinal changes in DMN connectivity were shown to correlate with changes in episodic memory, whereas volume changes in relevant brain regions did not. This relationship was not accounted for by white matter hyperintensities or mean whole-brain connectivity. Functional connectivity may be an early biomarker of changes in aging but should be used with caution given its nonmonotonic nature, which could complicate interpretation. Future studies investigating longitudinal network changes should consider whole-brain changes in connectivity.


aging; cognition; default mode network; episodic memory; functional MRI; neuroimaging

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