Reduced frontal cortex efficiency is associated with lower white matter integrity in aging

Zude Zhu, Nathan F Johnson, Chobok Kim, Brian T Gold
Cerebral Cortex 2015, 25 (1): 138-46
Increased frontal cortex activation during cognitive task performance is common in aging but remains poorly understood. Here we explored patterns of age-related frontal brain activations under multiple task performance conditions and their relationship to white matter (WM) microstructure. Groups of younger (N = 28) and older (N = 33) participants completed a task-switching paradigm while functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was performed, and rested while diffusion tensor imaging was performed. Results from fMRI analyses indicated age-related increases in frontal brain activations under conditions of poorer performance in the older group (the nonswitch and switch conditions) and for a contrast in which behavioral performance was equated (older group nonswitch condition vs. younger group switch condition). Within the older adult group, higher frontal activation was associated with poorer behavioral performance under all task conditions. In 2 regions in right frontal cortex, blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) magnitudes were negatively correlated with WM integrity in tracts connecting these structures with other task-relevant frontoparietal and striatal regions. Our results link age-related declines in the efficiency of frontal cortex functioning with lower WM integrity in aging.

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