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Differential Brain Activity in Regions Linked to Visuospatial Processing During Landmark-Based Navigation in Young and Healthy Older Adults

Abstract : Older adults have difficulties in navigating unfamiliar environments and updating their wayfinding behavior when faced with blocked routes. This decline in navigational capabilities has traditionally been ascribed to memory impairments and dysexecutive function, whereas the impact of visual aging has often been overlooked. The ability to perceive visuospatial information such as salient landmarks is essential to navigating efficiently. To date, the functional and neurobiological factors underpinning landmark processing in aging remain insufficiently characterized. To address this issue, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was used to investigate the brain activity associated with landmark-based navigation in young and healthy older participants. The performances of 25 young adults (μ = 25.4 years, σ = 2.7; seven females) and 17 older adults (μ = 73.0 years, σ = 3.9; 10 females) were assessed in a virtual-navigation task in which they had to orient using salient landmarks. The underlying whole-brain patterns of activity as well as the functional roles of specific cerebral regions involved in landmark processing, namely the parahippocampal place area (PPA), the occipital place area (OPA), and the retrosplenial cortex (RSC), were analyzed. Older adults' navigational abilities were overall diminished compared to young adults. Also, the two age groups relied on distinct navigational strategies to solve the task. Better performances during landmark-based navigation were associated with increased neural activity in an extended neural network comprising several cortical and cerebellar regions. Direct comparisons between age groups revealed that young participants had greater anterior temporal activity. Also, only young adults showed significant activity in occipital areas corresponding to the cortical projection of the central visual field during landmark-based navigation. The region-of-interest analysis revealed an increased OPA activation in older adult participants during the landmark condition. There were no significant between-group differences in PPA and RSC activations. These preliminary results hint at the possibility that aging diminishes fine-grained information processing in occipital and temporal regions, thus hindering the capacity to use landmarks adequately for navigation. Keeping sight of its exploratory nature, this work helps towards a better comprehension of the neural dynamics subtending landmark-based navigation and it provides new insights on the impact of age-related visuospatial processing differences on navigation capabilities.
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Submitted on : Monday, November 30, 2020 - 9:30:08 AM
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Stephen Ramanoël, Marion Durteste, Marcia Bécu, Christophe Habas, Angelo Arleo. Differential Brain Activity in Regions Linked to Visuospatial Processing During Landmark-Based Navigation in Young and Healthy Older Adults. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, Frontiers, 2020, 14, pp.552111. ⟨10.3389/fnhum.2020.552111⟩. ⟨hal-03030393⟩



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