Age-related alterations in electroencephalography connectivity and network topology during n-back working memory task

Fengzhen Hou, Cong Liu, Zhinan Yu, Xiaodong Xu*, Junying Zhang, Chung Kang Peng, Chunyong Wu, Albert Yang

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Scopus citations


The study of the healthy brain in elders, especially age-associated alterations in cognition, is important to understand the deficits created by Alzheimer's disease (AD), which imposes a tremendous burden on individuals, families, and society. Although, the changes in synaptic connectivity and reorganization of brain networks that accompany aging are gradually becoming understood, little is known about how normal aging affects brain inter-regional synchronization and functional networks when items are held in working memory (WM). According to the classic Sternberg WM paradigm, we recorded multichannel electroencephalography (EEG) from healthy adults (young and senior) in three different conditions, i.e., the resting state, 0-back (control) task, and 2-back task. The phase lag index (PLI) between EEG channels was computed and then weighted and undirected network was constructed based on the PLI matrix. The effects of aging on network topology were examined using a brain connectivity toolbox. The results showed that age-related alteration was more prominent when the 2-back task was engaged, especially in the theta band. For the younger adults, the WM task evoked a significant increase in the clustering coefficient of the beta-band functional connectivity network, which was absent in the older adults. Furthermore, significant correlations were observed between the behavioral performance of WM and EEG metrics in the theta and gamma bands, suggesting the potential use of those measures as biomarkers for the evaluation of cognitive training, for instance. Taken together, our findings shed further light on the underlying mechanism of WM in physiological aging and suggest that different EEG frequencies appear to have distinct functional correlates in cognitive aging. Analysis of inter-regional synchronization and topological characteristics based on graph theory is thus an appropriate way to explore natural age-related changes in the human brain.

Original languageEnglish
Article number484
JournalFrontiers in Human Neuroscience
StatePublished - 6 Dec 2018


  • Aging
  • Electroencephalography
  • Graph theory
  • Phase lag index
  • Working memory


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