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date: 01 March 2021

Neurocognitive Aging and Brain Signal Complexitylocked

  • Anthony Randal McIntoshAnthony Randal McIntoshRotman Research Institute, Baycrest Centre and Department of Psychology and Institute of Medical Science, University of Toronto


Brain organization can be measured across multiple spatial and temporal scales where each scale affects the other in the emergent functions that are known as cognition. As a complex adaptive system, the interplay of these scales in the brain represents the information that ultimately supports what one thinks and does. The dynamics of these multiscale operations can be quantified with measures of complexity, which are sensitive to the balance between information that is coded in local cell populations and that is captured in the network interactions between populations. This local versus global balance has its foundation in the structural connectivity of the brain, which is then realized through the dynamics of cell populations and their ensuing interactions with other populations. Considering brain function and cognition in this way enables a different perspective on the changes in cognitive function in aging.

Changes in brain signal complexity from childhood to adulthood were assessed in two independent studies. Both showed that maturation is accompanied by an overall increase in signal complexity, which also correlated with more stable and accurate cognitive performance. There was some suggestion that the maximal change occurs in medial posterior cortical areas, which have been considered “network hubs” of the brain. In extending to the study of healthy aging, a scale-dependent change in brain complexity was observed across three independent studies. Healthy aging brings a shift in local and global balance, where more information is coded in local dynamics and less in global interactions. This balance is associated with better cognitive performance and, interestingly, in a more active lifestyle. It also seems that the lack of this shift in local and global balance is predictive of worse cognitive performance and potentially predictive of additional decline indicative of dementia.

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