More educated elders are less susceptible to age-related or pathological cognitive changes. We aimed at providing a comprehensive contribution to the neural mechanism underlying this effect thanks to a multimodal approach. Thirty-six healthy elders were selected based on neuropsychological assessments and cerebral amyloid imaging, i.e. as presenting normal cognition and a negative florbetapir-PET scan. All subjects underwent structural MRI, FDG-PET and resting-state functional MRI scans. We assessed the relationships between years of education and i) gray matter volume, ii) gray matter metabolism and iii) functional connectivity in the brain areas showing associations with both volume and metabolism. Higher years of education were related to greater volume in the superior temporal gyrus, insula and anterior cingulate cortex and to greater metabolism in the anterior cingulate cortex. The latter thus showed both volume and metabolism increases with education. Seed connectivity analyses based on this region showed that education was positively related to the functional connectivity between the anterior cingulate cortex and the hippocampus as well as the inferior frontal lobe, posterior cingulate cortex and angular gyrus. Increased connectivity was in turn related with improved cognitive performances. Reinforcement of the connectivity of the anterior cingulate cortex with distant cortical areas of the frontal, temporal and parietal lobes appears as one of the mechanisms underlying education-related reserve in healthy elders.
Keywords: Brain reserve; Cognitive aging; Cognitive reserve; Education; Functional connectivity.
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