Age differences in the intrinsic functional connectivity of default network subsystems

Front Aging Neurosci. 2013 Nov 14;5:73. doi: 10.3389/fnagi.2013.00073. eCollection 2013.


Recent work suggests that the default mode network (DMN) includes two core regions, the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and posterior cingulate cortex (PCC), and several unique subsystems that are functionally distinct. These include a medial temporal lobe (MTL) subsystem, active during remembering and future projection, and a dorsomedial prefrontal cortex (dmPFC) subsystem, active during self-reference. The PCC has been further subdivided into ventral (vPCC) and dorsal (dPCC) regions that are more strongly connected with the DMN and cognitive control networks, respectively. The goal of this study was to examine age differences in resting state functional connectivity within these subsystems. After applying a rigorous procedure to reduce the effects of head motion, we used a multivariate technique to identify both common and unique patterns of functional connectivity in the MTL vs. the dmPFC, and in vPCC vs. dPCC. All four areas had robust functional connectivity with other DMN regions, and each also showed distinct connectivity patterns in both age groups. Young and older adults had equivalent functional connectivity in the MTL subsystem. Older adults showed weaker connectivity in the vPCC and dmPFC subsystems, particularly with other DMN areas, but stronger connectivity than younger adults in the dPCC subsystem, which included areas involved in cognitive control. Our data provide evidence for distinct subsystems involving DMN nodes, which are maintained with age. Nevertheless, there are age differences in the strength of functional connectivity within these subsystems, supporting prior evidence that DMN connectivity is particularly vulnerable to age, whereas connectivity involving cognitive control regions is relatively maintained. These results suggest an age difference in the integrated activity among brain networks that can have implications for cognition in older adults.

Keywords: aging; default network; fMRI; functional connectivity; resting state; subsystems.