Aging-associated changes of movement-related functional connectivity in the human brain

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Motor performance declines with normal aging. Previous neuroimaging work revealed aging-related general increases in neural activity, especially in the prefrontal and pre-motor areas, associated with a loss of hemispheric lateralization. However, the functional mechanisms underlying these changes and their relation to aging-associated motor decline to date remain elusive.

To further elucidate the neural processes underlying aging-related motor decline, we recorded EEG from younger and older subjects while they performed a finger-tapping task. As a measure of synchronization between motor areas, we computed the inter-regional phase-locking value which reflects functional connectivity between distinct neural populations.

Behavioral data revealed increased movement times in older subjects. EEG data showed that phase locking in the δ-Θ frequencies is a general, age-independent phenomenon underlying the execution of simple finger movements. In stark contrast, the extent of synchronization between motor areas significantly differed dependent upon age of subjects: multiple additional intra- and inter-hemispheric connections were observed in older subjects. Our data shed light upon the results of previous neuroimaging studies showing aging-related increases in neural activation. In particular, data suggest that the observed aging-dependent substantial intra- and inter-hemispheric reorganization of connectivity between the corresponding motor areas underlies the previously reported loss of lateralization in older subjects. The changes observed are likely to represent compensatory mechanisms aiming at preserved task performance in older subjects.

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