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The independent influences of age and education on functional brain networks and cognition in healthy older adults

By Alistair Perry, Wei Wen, Nicole A Kochan, Anbupalam Thalamuthu, Perminder S. Sachdev, Michael Breakspear

Posted 25 Jun 2017
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/154898 (published DOI: 10.1002/hbm.23717)

Healthy ageing is accompanied by a constellation of changes in cognitive processes and alterations in functional brain networks. The relationships between brain networks and cognition during ageing in later life are moderated by demographic and environmental factors, such as prior education, in a poorly understood manner. Using multivariate analyses, we identify three latent patterns (or modes) linking resting-state functional connectivity to demographic and cognitive measures in 101 cognitively-normal elders. The first mode (p=0.00043) captures an opposing association between age and core cognitive processes such as attention and processing speed on functional connectivity patterns. The functional subnetwork expressed by this mode links bilateral sensorimotor and visual regions through key areas such as the parietal operculum. A strong, independent association between years of education and functional connectivity loads onto a second mode (p=0.012), characterised by the involvement of key hub-regions. A third mode (p=0.041) captures weak, residual brain-behaviour relations. Our findings suggest that circuits supporting lower-level cognitive processes are most sensitive to the influence of age in healthy older adults. Education, and to a lesser extent, executive functions, load independently onto functional networks - suggesting that the moderating effect of education acts upon networks distinct from those vulnerable with ageing. This has important implications in understanding the contribution of education to cognitive reserve during healthy ageing.

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