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Prefrontal cortex activation during dual-task walking in older adults is moderated by thickness of several cortical regions

Abstract

Dual tasking, a defined facet of executive control processes, is subserved, in part, by the prefrontal cortex (PFC). Previous functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS) studies revealed elevated PFC oxygenated hemoglobin (HbO2) under Dual-Task-Walk (DTW) compared to Single-Task Walk (STW) conditions. Based on the concept of neural inefficiency (i.e., greater activation coupled with similar or worse performance), we hypothesized that decreased cortical thickness across multiple brain regions would be associated with greater HbO2 increases from STW to DTW. Participants were 55 healthy community-dwelling older adults, whose cortical thickness was measured via MRI. HbO2 levels in the PFC, measured via fNIRS, were assessed during active walking under STW and DTW conditions. Statistical analyses were adjusted for demographics and behavioral performance. Linear mixed-effects models revealed that the increase in HbO2 from STW to DTW was moderated by cortical thickness in several regions. Specifically, thinner cortex in specific regions of the frontal, parietal, temporal, and occipital lobes, cingulate cortex, and insula was associated with greater increases in HbO2 levels from single to dual-task walking. In conclusion, participants with thinner cortex in regions implicated in higher order control of walking employed greater neural resources, as measured by increased HbO2, in the PFC during DTW, without demonstrating benefits to behavioral performance. To our knowledge, this is the first study to examine cortical thickness as a marker of neural inefficiency during active walking.

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Fig. 1

Data availability

Data may be provided on request to the corresponding author.

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Funding

This work was supported by the National Institute of Health (R01AG036921, R01AG044007, R01NS109023).

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Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Contributions

Conceptualization: D.R., R.H. Methodology: D.R., M.E.W., M.I., R.H. Formal analysis: D.R. Writing—original draft preparation: D.R. Writing—review and editing: M.E.W., M.I., R.H. Funding acquisition: R.H.

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Roee Holtzer.

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Ethics approval

All procedures performed in this study were in accordance with the ethical standards of the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments and approved by the institutional review board of Albert Einstein College of Medicine.

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Written informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

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Not applicable.

Conflicts of interest

M.I. has a very minor share in the company that manufactures the fNIRS device used in this study. All other authors declare no conflicts of interest.

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Ross, D., Wagshul, M.E., Izzetoglu, M. et al. Prefrontal cortex activation during dual-task walking in older adults is moderated by thickness of several cortical regions. GeroScience 43, 1959–1974 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11357-021-00379-1

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s11357-021-00379-1

Keywords

  • Walking
  • Prefrontal cortex
  • Cortical thickness
  • Dual task