Sex differences in the effect of age on memory-related brain function

Aging is associated with episodic memory decline and alterations in memory-related brain function. However, it remains unclear if age-related memory decline is associated with similar patterns of brain aging in women and men. Understanding these similarities and differences are critical to providing important insight as to why there are sex differences in memory-related disorders and how treatment interventions should be tailored in the realm of aging and dementia.
In my talk I will present findings from my Montreal Adult Lifespan and Memory study in which a large cohort of healthy young (18-39 yrs), middle-aged (40-59 yrs) and older (>60 yrs) adults participated in a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study of face-location associative memory in which data were collected during both encoding and retrieval. I will first present results from a multivariate behavioral partial least square (B-PLS) analysis of the fMRI data in which we directly examined how age and retrieval accuracy correlated with brain activity across the adult lifespan (Kwon et al., 2016; Ankudowich et 2016, 2017, 2018).
I will then discuss results from a follow-up analysis of this dataset in which we tested the hypothesis that there are sex differences in the effect of age on memory-related brain function, even in the absence of sex differences in memory performance. This analysis yielded three key findings: 1) age-related increases in lateral frontal-parietal activity at encoding were specific to women and correlated with better subsequent memory; 2) there were pronounced sex differences in the impact of age on occipital, temporal and VLPFC activity, however in both sexes the pattern of age-related difference in these regional activations were similarly detrimental to task performance; and, 3) age-related deficits in spatial context memory are primarily related to altered brain activity at retrieval in both sexes, but the nature of that age-related differences in activation was not the same in women and men (Subramaniapillai et al., in press). These results highlight the importance of considering sex differences in the cognitive neuroscience of aging, memory and dementia prevention. In order to develop precision health care for age-related diseases in women and men, it is critical we understand the effect of biological sex on the neurocognitive function and aging.