Aging is typically associated with declines in sensorimotor performance. Previous studies have linked some age-related behavioral declines to reductions in network segregation. For example, compared to young adults, older adults typically exhibit weaker functional connectivity within the same functional network but stronger functional connectivity between different networks. Based on previous animal studies, we hypothesized that such reductions of network segregation are linked to age-related reductions in the brain's major inhibitory transmitter, gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA). To investigate this hypothesis, we conducted graph theoretical analyses of resting state functional MRI data to measure sensorimotor network segregation in both young and old adults. We also used magnetic resonance spectroscopy to measure GABA levels in the sensorimotor cortex and collected a battery of sensorimotor behavioral measures. We report four main findings. First, relative to young adults, old adults exhibit both less segregated sensorimotor brain networks and reduced sensorimotor GABA levels. Second, less segregated networks are associated with lower GABA levels. Third, less segregated networks and lower GABA levels are associated with worse sensorimotor performance. Fourth, network segregation mediates the relationship between GABA and performance. These findings link age-related differences in network segregation to age-related differences in GABA levels and sensorimotor performance. More broadly, they suggest a neurochemical substrate of age-related dedifferentiation at the level of large-scale brain networks.
Keywords: Aging; Dedifferentiation; GABA; Network segregation; Sensorimotor.
Copyright © 2018. Published by Elsevier Inc.