Although bimanual finger coordination is known to decline with aging, it still remains unclear how exactly the neural substrates underlying the coordination differ between young and elderly adults. The present study focused on: (1) characterization of the functional connectivity within the motor association cortex which is required for successful bimanual finger coordination, and (2) to elucidate upon its age-related decline. To address these objectives, we utilized functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in combination with structural equation modeling (SEM). This allowed us to compare functional connectivity models between young and elderly age groups during a visually guided bimanual finger movement task using both stable in-phase and complex anti-phase modes. Our SEM exploration of functional connectivity revealed significant age-related differences in connections surrounding the PMd in the dominant hemisphere. In the young group who generally displayed accurate behavior, the SEM model for the anti-phase mode exhibited significant connections from the dominant PMd to the non-dominant SPL, and from the dominant PMd to the dominant S1. However, the model for the elderly group's anti-phase mode in which task performance dropped, did not exhibit significant connections within the aforementioned regions. These results suggest that: (1) the dominant PMd acts as an intermediary to invoke intense intra- and inter-hemispheric connectivity with distant regions among the higher motor areas including the dominant S1 and the non-dominant SPL in order to achieve successful bimanual finger coordination, and (2) the distant connectivity among the higher motor areas declines with aging, whereas the local connectivity within the bilateral M1 is enhanced for the complex anti-phase mode. The latter may underlie the elderly's decreased performance in the complex anti-phase mode of the bimanual finger movement task.
Keywords: PMd; SEM; aging; anti-phase; bimanual finger coordination; fMRI; functional connectivity; in-phase.