The default network of the human brain has drawn much attention due to its relevance to various brain disorders, cognition, and behavior. However, its functional components and boundaries have not been precisely defined. There is no consensus as to whether the precuneus, a hub in the functional connectome, acts as part of the default network. This discrepancy is more critical for brain development and aging studies: it is not clear whether age has a stronger impact on the default network or precuneus, or both. We used Generalized Ranking and Averaging Independent Component Analysis by Reproducibility (gRAICAR) to investigate the lifespan trajectories of intrinsic functional networks. By estimating individual-specific spatial components and aligning them across subjects, gRAICAR measures the spatial variation of component maps across a population without constraining the same components to appear in every subject. In a cross-lifespan fMRI dataset (N=126, 7-85years old), we observed stronger age dependence in the spatial pattern of a precuneus-dorsal posterior cingulate cortex network compared to the default network, despite the fact that the two networks exhibit considerable spatial overlap and temporal correlation. These results remained even when analyses were restricted to a subpopulation with very similar head motion across age. Our analyses further showed that the two networks tend to merge with increasing age. Post-hoc analyses of functional connectivity confirmed the distinguishable cross-lifespan trajectories between the two networks. Based on these observations, we proposed a dynamic model of cross-lifespan functional segregation and integration between the two networks, suggesting that the precuneus network may have a different functional role than the default network, which declines with age. These findings have implications for understanding the functional roles of the default network, gaining insight into its dynamics throughout life, and guiding interpretation of alterations in brain disorders.
Keywords: Default network; Functional connectome; Independent component analysis; Lifespan trajectory; Precuneus; gRAICAR.
Published by Elsevier Inc.