The independent influences of age and education on functional brain networks and cognition in healthy older adults

Hum Brain Mapp. 2017 Oct;38(10):5094-5114. doi: 10.1002/hbm.23717. Epub 2017 Jul 7.


Healthy aging is accompanied by a constellation of changes in cognitive processes and alterations in functional brain networks. The relationships between brain networks and cognition during aging in later life are moderated by demographic and environmental factors, such as prior education, in a poorly understood manner. Using multivariate analyses, we identified three latent patterns (or modes) linking resting-state functional connectivity to demographic and cognitive measures in 101 cognitively normal elders. The first mode (P = 0.00043) captures an opposing association between age and core cognitive processes such as attention and processing speed on functional connectivity patterns. The functional subnetwork expressed by this mode links bilateral sensorimotor and visual regions through key areas such as the parietal operculum. A strong, independent association between years of education and functional connectivity loads onto a second mode (P = 0.012), characterized by the involvement of key hub regions. A third mode (P = 0.041) captures weak, residual brain-behavior relations. Our findings suggest that circuits supporting lower level cognitive processes are most sensitive to the influence of age in healthy older adults. Education, and to a lesser extent, executive functions, load independently onto functional networks-suggesting that the moderating effect of education acts upon networks distinct from those vulnerable with aging. This has important implications in understanding the contribution of education to cognitive reserve during healthy aging. Hum Brain Mapp 38:5094-5114, 2017. © 2017 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

Keywords: aging; brain networks; cognition; cognitive reserve; functional connectivity; multivariate analysis.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aged, 80 and over
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Aging / psychology*
  • Brain / diagnostic imaging
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cognition* / physiology
  • Educational Status*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Intelligence
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Multivariate Analysis
  • Neural Pathways / diagnostic imaging
  • Neural Pathways / physiology
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Rest
  • Sex Characteristics