Age-related neural dedifferentiation and cognition

Curr Opin Behav Sci. 2020 Apr;32:7-14. doi: 10.1016/j.cobeha.2020.01.006. Epub 2020 Feb 3.


This review focuses on possible contributions of neural dedifferentiation to age-related cognitive decline. Neural dedifferentiation is held to reflect a breakdown in the functional specificity of brain regions and networks that compromises the fidelity of neural representations supporting episodic memory and related cognitive functions. The evidence for age-related dedifferentiation is robust when it is operationalized as neural selectivity for different categories of perceptual stimuli or as decreased segregation or modularity of resting-state functional brain networks. Neural dedifferentiation for perceptual categories appears to demonstrate a negative, age-invariant relationship with performance on tests of memory and fluid processing. Whether this pattern extends to network-level measures of dedifferentiation cannot currently be determined due to insufficient evidence. The existing data highlight the importance of further examination of neural dedifferentiation as a factor contributing to episodic memory and to cognitive performance more generally.