Elucidating the neural correlates of mobility is critical given the increasing population of older adults and age-associated mobility disability. In the current study, we applied graph theory to cross-sectional data to characterize functional brain networks generated from functional magnetic resonance imaging data both at rest and during a motor imagery (MI) task. Our MI task is derived from the Mobility Assessment Tool-short form (MAT-sf), which predicts performance on a 400 m walk, and the Short Physical Performance Battery (SPPB). Participants (n = 157) were from the Brain Networks and Mobility (B-NET) Study (mean age = 76.1 ± 4.3; % female = 55.4; % African American = 8.3; mean years of education = 15.7 ± 2.5). We used community structure analyses to partition functional brain networks into communities, or subnetworks, of highly interconnected regions. Global brain network community structure decreased during the MI task when compared to the resting state. We also examined the community structure of the default mode network (DMN), sensorimotor network (SMN), and the dorsal attention network (DAN) across the study population. The DMN and SMN exhibited a task-driven decline in consistency across the group when comparing the MI task to the resting state. The DAN, however, displayed an increase in consistency during the MI task. To our knowledge, this is the first study to use graph theory and network community structure to characterize the effects of a MI task, such as the MAT-sf, on overall brain network organization in older adults.
Keywords: SPPB; aging; brain; functional brain imaging; mobility; modularity; motor imagery; networks.