Assessment of age-related decline of neurovascular coupling responses by functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) in humans

Geroscience. 2019 Oct;41(5):495-509. doi: 10.1007/s11357-019-00122-x. Epub 2019 Nov 2.


Preclinical studies provide strong evidence that age-related impairment of neurovascular coupling (NVC) plays a causal role in the pathogenesis of vascular cognitive impairment (VCI). NVC is a critical homeostatic mechanism in the brain, responsible for adjustment of local cerebral blood flow to the energetic needs of the active neuronal tissue. Recent progress in geroscience has led to the identification of critical cellular and molecular mechanisms involved in neurovascular aging, identifying these pathways as targets for intervention. In order to translate the preclinical findings to humans, there is a need to assess NVC in geriatric patients as an endpoint in clinical studies. Functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) is a non-invasive neuroimaging technique that enables the investigation of local changes in cerebral blood flow, quantifying task-related changes in oxygenated and deoxygenated hemoglobin concentrations. In the present overview, the basic principles of fNIRS are introduced and the application of this technique to assess NVC in older adults with implications for the design of studies on the mechanistic underpinnings of VCI is discussed.

Keywords: Aging; Cognitive aging; Functional near-infrared spectroscopy; Neurovascular coupling; VCI; VCID; Vascular cognitive impairment and dementia; fNIRS.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cerebrovascular Circulation / physiology*
  • Dementia, Vascular / diagnosis
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Neurovascular Coupling / physiology*
  • Spectroscopy, Near-Infrared*