The impact of aging on gray matter structural covariance networks


Previous anatomical volumetric studies have shown that healthy aging is associated with gray matter tissue loss in specific cerebral regions. However, these studies may have potentially missed critical elements of age-related brain changes, which largely exist within interrelationships among brain regions. This magnetic resonance imaging research aims to assess the effects of aging on the organization of gray matter structural covariance networks. Here, we used voxel-based morphometry on high-definition brain scans to compare the patterns of gray matter structural covariance networks that sustain different sensorimotor and high-order cognitive functions among young (n=88, mean age=23.5±3.1 years, female/male=5533) and older (n=88, mean age=67.3±5.9 years, female/male=5533) participants. This approach relies on the assumption that functionally correlated brain regions show correlations in gray matter volume as a result of mutually trophic influences or common experience-related plasticity. We found reduced structural association in older adults compared with younger adults, specifically in high-order cognitive networks. Major differences were observed in the structural covariance networks that subserve the following: a) the language-related semantic network, b) the executive control network, and c) the default-mode network. Moreover, these cognitive functions are typically altered in the older population. Our results indicate that healthy aging alters the structural organization of cognitive networks, shifting from a more distributed (in young adulthood) to a more localized topological organization in older individuals.

Maxime Montembeault, Ph.D.
Étudiant au Doctorat