Healthy aging is associated with a decline in cognitive, executive, and motor processes that are concomitant with changes in brain activation patterns, particularly at high complexity levels. While speech production relies on all these processes, and is known to decline with age, the mechanisms that underlie these changes remain poorly understood, despite the importance of communication on everyday life. In this cross-sectional group study, we investigated age differences in the neuromotor control of speech production by combining behavioral and functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) data. Twenty-seven healthy adults underwent fMRI while performing a speech production task consisting in the articulation of nonwords of different sequential and motor complexity. Results demonstrate strong age differences in movement time (MT), with longer and more variable MT in older adults. The fMRI results revealed extensive age differences in the relationship between BOLD signal and MT, within and outside the sensorimotor system. Moreover, age differences were also found in relation to sequential complexity within the motor and attentional systems, reflecting both compensatory and de-differentiation mechanisms. At very high complexity level (high motor complexity and high sequence complexity), age differences were found in both MT data and BOLD response, which increased in several sensorimotor and executive control areas. Together, these results suggest that aging of motor and executive control mechanisms may contribute to age differences in speech production. These findings highlight the importance of studying functionally relevant behavior such as speech to understand the mechanisms of human brain aging. Hum Brain Mapp 38:2751-2771, 2017. © 2017 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
Keywords: aging; anterior insula; de-differentiation; movement time; neural compensation; posterior cingulate gyrus; premotor cortex; primary motor cortex; speech production.
© 2017 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.