Accurate identification of brain function is necessary to understand neurocognitive aging, and thereby promote health and well-being. Many studies of neurocognitive aging have investigated brain function with the blood-oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) signal measured by functional magnetic resonance imaging. However, the BOLD signal is a composite of neural and vascular signals, which are differentially affected by aging. It is, therefore, essential to distinguish the age effects on vascular versus neural function. The BOLD signal variability at rest (known as resting state fluctuation amplitude, RSFA), is a safe, scalable, and robust means to calibrate vascular responsivity, as an alternative to breath-holding and hypercapnia. However, the use of RSFA for normalization of BOLD imaging assumes that age differences in RSFA reflecting only vascular factors, rather than age-related differences in neural function (activity) or neuronal loss (atrophy). Previous studies indicate that two vascular factors, cardiovascular health (CVH) and cerebrovascular function, are insufficient when used alone to fully explain age-related differences in RSFA. It remains possible that their joint consideration is required to fully capture age differences in RSFA. We tested the hypothesis that RSFA no longer varies with age after adjusting for a combination of cardiovascular and cerebrovascular measures. We also tested the hypothesis that RSFA variation with age is not associated with atrophy. We used data from the population-based, lifespan Cam-CAN cohort. After controlling for cardiovascular and cerebrovascular estimates alone, the residual variance in RSFA across individuals was significantly associated with age. However, when controlling for both cardiovascular and cerebrovascular estimates, the variance in RSFA was no longer associated with age. Grey matter volumes did not explain age differences in RSFA, after controlling for CVH. The results were consistent between voxel-level analysis and independent component analysis. Our findings indicate that cardiovascular and cerebrovascular signals are together sufficient predictors of age differences in RSFA. We suggest that RSFA can be used to separate vascular from neuronal factors, to characterize neurocognitive aging. We discuss the implications and make recommendations for the use of RSFA in the research of aging.
Keywords: aging; cerebral vascular reactivity; functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI); individual differences.
© 2020 The Authors. Psychophysiology published by Wiley Periodicals LLC on behalf of Society for Psychophysiological Research.