Alterations of existing neural networks during healthy aging, resulting in behavioral deficits and changes in brain activity, have been described for cognitive, motor, and sensory functions. To investigate age-related changes in the neural circuitry underlying overt non-lexical speech production, functional MRI was performed in 14 healthy younger (21-32 years) and 14 healthy older individuals (62-84 years). The experimental task involved the acoustically cued overt production of the vowel /a/ and the polysyllabic utterance /pataka/. In younger and older individuals, overt speech production was associated with the activation of a widespread articulo-phonological network, including the primary motor cortex, the supplementary motor area, the cingulate motor areas, and the posterior superior temporal cortex, similar in the /a/ and /pataka/ condition. An analysis of variance with the factors age and condition revealed a significant main effect of age. Irrespective of the experimental condition, significantly greater activation was found in the bilateral posterior superior temporal cortex, the posterior temporal plane, and the transverse temporal gyri in younger compared to older individuals. Significantly greater activation was found in the bilateral middle temporal gyri, medial frontal gyri, middle frontal gyri, and inferior frontal gyri in older vs. younger individuals. The analysis of variance did not reveal a significant main effect of condition and no significant interaction of age and condition. These results suggest a complex reorganization of neural networks dedicated to the production of speech during healthy aging.
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