Task-induced deactivations within the brain’s default mode network (DMN) are thought to reflect suppression of endogenous thought processes to support exogenous goal-directed task processes. Older adults are known to show reductions in deactivation of the DMN compared to younger adults. However, little is understood about the mechanisms contributing to functional dysregulation of the DMN in aging. Here, we explored the relationships between functional modulation of the DMN and age, task performance and white matter (WM) microstructure. Participants were 117 adults ranging from 25 to 83 years old who completed an fMRI task switching paradigm, including easy (single) and difficult (mixed) conditions, and underwent diffusion tensor imaging (DTI). The fMRI results revealed an age by condition interaction (β = −0.13, t = −3.16, p = 0.002) such that increasing age affected deactivation magnitude during the mixed condition (β = −0.29, t = −3.24 p = 0.002) but not the single condition (p = 0.58). Additionally, there was a WM by condition interaction (β = 0.10, t = 2.33, p = 0.02) such that decreasing WM microstructure affected deactivation magnitude during the mixed condition (β = 0.30, t = 3.42 p = 0.001) but not the single condition (p = 0.17). Critically, mediation analyses indicated that age-related reductions in WM microstructure accounted for the relationship between age and DMN deactivation in the more difficult mixed condition. These findings suggest that age-related declines in anatomical connectivity between DMN regions contribute to functional dysregulation within the DMN in older adults.

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Published in Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience, v. 7, article 194, p. 1-10.

© 2015 Brown, Hakun, Zhu, Johnson and Gold.

This is an open-access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (CC BY). The use, distribution and reproduction in other forums is permitted, provided the original author(s) or licensor are credited and that the original publication in this journal is cited, in accordance with accepted academic practice. No use, distribution or reproduction is permitted which does not comply with these terms.

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This study was supported by a grant to BG from the National Institute on Aging of the National Institutes of Health under award number R01AG033036. CB received fellowship support from the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences under award number TL1TR000115.