Does healthy aging affect the hemispheric activation balance during paced index-to-thumb opposition task? An fMRI study

Neuroimage. 2006 Sep;32(3):1250-6. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2006.05.003. Epub 2006 Jun 27.


Normal aging is generally associated with declining performance in cognitive and fine motor tasks. Previous functional imaging studies have been inconsistent regarding the effect of aging on primary motor cortex (M1) activation during finger movement, showing increased, unchanged or decreased activation contralaterally, and more consistently increased activation ipsilaterally. Furthermore, no study has addressed the effect of age on M1 hemispheric activation balance. We studied 18 optimally healthy right-handed subjects, age range 18-79 years (mean +/- SD: 47 +/- 17) using 3 T fMRI and right index finger-thumb tapping auditory-paced at 1.25 Hz. The weighted Laterality Index (wLI) for M1 was obtained according to Fernandez et al. (2001) [Fernandez, G., de Greiff, A., von Oertzen, J., Reuber, M., Lun, S., Klaver, P., et al. 2001. Language mapping in less than 15 min: real-time functional MRI during routine clinical investigation. Neuroimage 14 585-594], with some modifications. The wLI, as well as the total activation on each side, were assessed against age using non-parametric correlation. There was a highly significant negative correlation between age and wLI such that the older the subjects, the lower the wLI. Furthermore, there was a highly significant positive correlation between total activation for ipsilateral M1 and age, and a nearly significant trend for contralateral M1. This study documents that during execution of a simple paced motor task, the older the subject the less lateralized the M1 activation balance as a result of increasing amount of activation on both sides, more significantly so ipsilaterally. Thus, in aging, enhanced M1 recruitment bilaterally is required to produce the same motor performance, suggesting a compensatory process. These findings are in line with cognitive studies indicating a tendency for the aging brain to reduce its functional lateralization, perhaps from less efficient transcallosal connections.

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Algorithms
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Cues
  • Female
  • Fingers / physiology*
  • Functional Laterality / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Prospective Studies
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*