INTRODUCTION: Cognitive complaints are common shortly after mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) but may persist up to years. Age-related cognitive decline can worsen these symptoms. However, effects of age on mTBI sequelae have scarcely been investigated.
METHODS: Fifty-four mTBI patients (median age: 35 years, range 19-64 years, 67% male) and twenty age- and sex-matched healthy controls were studied using resting state functional magnetic resonance imaging in the sub-acute phase. Independent component analysis was used to identify intrinsic connectivity networks (ICNs). A multivariate approach was adopted to evaluate the effects of age and group on the ICNs in terms of (static) functional network connectivity (FNC), intensities of spatial maps (SMs) and time-course spectral power (TC).
RESULTS: We observed significant age-related changes for a) FNC: changes between 10 pairs of ICNs, mostly involving the default mode (DM) and/or the cognitive-control (CC) domains; b) SMs: intensity decrease in clusters across three domains and intensity increase in clusters across two domains, including the CC but not the DM and c) TC: spectral power decrease within the 0-0.15 Hz range and increase within the 0.20-0.25 Hz range for increasing age within networks located in frontal areas, including the anterior DM. Groups only differed for TC within the 0.065-0.10 Hz range in the cerebellar ICN and no age × group interaction effect was found.
CONCLUSIONS: We showed robust effects of age on connectivity between and within ICNs that are associated with cognitive functioning. Differences between mTBI patients and controls were only found for activity in the cerebellar network, increasingly recognized to participate in cognition. Our results suggest that to allow for capturing the true effects related to mTBI and its effects on cognitive functioning, age should be included as a covariate in mTBI studies, in addition to age-matching groups.