The human brain undergoes both morphological and functional modifications across the human lifespan. It is important to understand the aspects of brain reorganization that are critical in normal aging. To address this question, one approach is to investigate age-related topological changes of the brain. In this study, we developed a brain network model using graph theory methods applied to the resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging data acquired from two groups of normal healthy adults classified by age. We found that brain functional networks demonstrated modular organization in both groups with modularity decreased with aging, suggesting less distinct functional divisions across whole brain networks. Local efficiency was also decreased with aging but not with global efficiency. Besides these brain-wide observations, we also observed consistent alterations of network properties at the regional level in the elderly, particularly in two major functional networks-the default mode network (DMN) and the sensorimotor network. Specifically, we found that measures of regional strength, local and global efficiency of functional connectivity were increased in the sensorimotor network while decreased in the DMN with aging. These results indicate that global reorganization of brain functional networks may reflect overall topological changes with aging and that aging likely alters individual brain networks differently depending on the functional properties. Moreover, these findings highly correspond to the observation of decline in cognitive functions but maintenance of primary information processing in normal healthy aging, implying an underlying compensation mechanism evolving with aging to support higher-level cognitive functioning.
Keywords: aging; brain networks; default mode network; efficiency; graph theory; modularity; resting-state functional connectivity; sensorimotor network.