Age-dependent changes in task-based modular organization of the human brain

As humans age, cognition and behavior change significantly, along with associated brain function and organization. Aging has been shown to decrease variability in functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) signals, and to affect the modular organization of human brain function. In this work, we use complex network analysis to investigate the dynamic community structure of large-scale brain function, asking how evolving communities interact with known brain systems, and how the dynamics of communities and brain systems are affected by age. We analyze dynamic networks derived from fMRI scans of 104 human subjects performing a word memory task, and determine the time-evolving modular structure of these networks by maximizing the multislice modularity, thereby identifying distinct communities, or sets of brain regions with strong intra-set functional coherence. To understand how community structure changes over time, we examine the number of communities as well as the flexibility, or the likelihood that brain regions will switch between communities. We find a significant positive correlation between age and both these measures: younger subjects tend to have less fragmented and more coherent communities, and their brain regions tend to change communities less often during the memory task. We characterize the relationship of community structure to known brain systems by the recruitment coefficient, or the probability of a brain region being grouped in the same community as other regions in the same system. We find that regions associated with cingulo-opercular, somatosensory, ventral attention, and subcortical circuits have a significantly higher recruitment coefficient in younger subjects. This indicates that the within-system functional coherence of these specific systems during the memory task declines with age. Such a correspondence does not exist for other systems (e.g. visual and default mode), whose recruitment coefficients remain relatively uniform across ages. These results confirm that the dynamics of functional community structure vary with age, and demonstrate methods for investigating how aging differentially impacts the functional organization of different brain systems.

Schlesinger, K., Turner, B.O., Lopez, B., Miller, M.B. and Carlson, J.M.
Volume: 146
Pages: 741-762
Date: February, 2017
ICB Affiliated Authors: Jean M Carlson, Michael B Miller