Age-related variability in performance of a motor action selection task is related to differences in brain function and structure among older adults

Neuroimage. 2014 Feb 1:86:326-34. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2013.10.016. Epub 2013 Oct 12.


Task performance for behaviors that engage motor cognitive processes may be particularly sensitive to age-related changes. One well-studied model of cognitive motor function involves engagement of action selection (AS) processes. In young adults, task conditions that add AS demands result in increased preparation times and greater engagement of bilateral dorsal premotor (PMd) and parietal cortices. The current study investigated the behavioral and neural response to a change in motor cognitive demands in older adults through the addition of AS to a movement task. Sixteen older adults made a joystick movement under two conditions during functional magnetic resonance imaging. In the AS condition, participants moved right or left based on an abstract rule; in the execution only (EO) condition, participants moved in the same direction on every trial. Across participants, the AS condition, as compared to the EO condition, was associated with longer reaction time and increased activation of left inferior parietal lobule. Variability in behavioral response to the AS task between participants related to differences in brain function and structure. Overall, individuals with poorer AS task performance showed greater activation in left PMd and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and decreased structural integrity of white matter tracts that connect sensorimotor, frontal, and parietal regions-key regions for AS task performance. Additionally, two distinct patterns of functional connectivity were found. Participants with a pattern of decreased primary motor-PMd connectivity in response to the AS condition, compared to those with a pattern of increased connectivity, were older and had poorer behavioral performance. These neural changes in response to increased motor cognitive demands may be a marker for age-related changes in the motor system and have an impact on the learning of novel, complex motor skills in older adults.

Keywords: Action selection; Aging; Functional connectivity; Imaging; Movement.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging / pathology*
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / anatomy & histology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Decision Making / physiology*
  • Diffusion Tensor Imaging
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Middle Aged
  • Movement / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology*
  • Structure-Activity Relationship