Executive functions, essential for daily life, are known to be impaired in older age. Some executive functions, including working memory updating and value-based decision-making, are specifically sensitive to age-related deterioration. While their neural correlates in young adults are well-described, a comprehensive delineation of the underlying brain substrates in older populations, relevant to identify targets for modulation against cognitive decline, is missing. Here, we assessed letter updating and Markov decision-making task performance to operationalize these trainable functions in 48 older adults. Resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging was acquired to quantify functional connectivity (FC) in task-relevant frontoparietal and default mode networks. Microstructure in white matter pathways mediating executive functions was assessed with diffusion tensor imaging and quantified by tract-based fractional anisotropy (FA). Superior letter updating performance correlated with higher FC between dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and left frontoparietal and hippocampal areas, while superior Markov decision-making performance correlated with decreased FC between basal ganglia and right angular gyrus. Furthermore, better working memory updating performance was related to higher FA in the cingulum bundle and the superior longitudinal fasciculus. Stepwise linear regression showed that cingulum bundle FA added significant incremental contribution to the variance explained by fronto-angular FC alone. Our findings provide a characterization of distinct functional and structural connectivity correlates associated with performance of specific executive functions. Thereby, this study contributes to the understanding of the neural correlates of updating and decision-making functions in older adults, paving the way for targeted modulation of specific networks by modulatory techniques such as behavioral interventions and non-invasive brain stimulation.
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|Published - Aug 2023