Abstract

Age affects the ability to inhibit saccadic eye movements. According to current theories, this may be associated with age-induced neurophysiological changes in the brain and with compensatory activation in frontal brain areas. In the present study, the effects of aging are assessed on brain systems that subserve generation and inhibition of saccadic eye movements. For this purpose, an event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging design was used in adults covering three age ranges (18–30, 30–55, and 55–72 years). Group differences were controlled for task performance. Activity associated with saccadic inhibition was represented by the contrast between prosaccade and antisaccade activation. The tasks activated well-documented networks of regions known to be involved in generation and inhibition of saccadic eye movements. There was an age-related shift in activity from posterior to frontal brain regions after young adulthood. In addition, old adults demonstrated an overall reduction in the blood oxygenation level dependent (BOLD) signal in the visual and oculomotor system. Age, however, did not affect saccade inhibition activity. Mid and old adults appear to increase frontal activation to maintain performance even during simple prosaccades. The global reduction of the BOLD response in old adults could reflect a reduction in neural activity, as well as changes in the neuronal-vascular coupling. Future research should address the impact of altered vascular dynamics on neural activation and the BOLD signal.

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