Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Resting-state functional magnetic resonance imaging and functional connectivity (FC) analyses are used to explore functional brain networks underlying a diverse array of abilities. Functional networks are composed of regions throughout the brain whose activity is closely linked to form a coherent network. One functional network, the "default mode network" (DMN), is thought to subserve self-referential thought and autobiographical memory. DMN regions include the ventromedial prefrontal cortex, inferior parietal lobe, hippocampus, and the primary "hub" of this network, the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC). For reasons yet unknown, DMN FC declines in aging, which is associated with memory impairment. Vascular risk may be an important contributor to age-related DMN disruption through its effects on gray and white matter integrity.

The present study examined relationships among vascular risk, DMN FC, and episodic memory in older adults using FC analyses and structural equation modeling. Several regions found to be functionally related to the PCC were those identified in prior research on the DMN, but also included areas not typically implicated in the DMN, such as the cerebellum and basal ganglia. Stronger FC between the PCC and parahippocampal gyrus predicted better memory performance, confirming the importance of medial temporal lobe structures for memory. FC between the PCC and several other areas, such as the cerebellum, basal ganglia, and limbic regions, also predicted memory performance, suggesting the importance of executive functioning and emotion for memory in aging. Correlations between FC and vascular risk were found in the basal ganglia, cerebellum, and inferior temporal gyrus, suggesting vascular risk may modify associations between the DMN and cortical and subcortical regions. Finally, a mediational model was tested in which DMN FC mediated the relationship between vascular risk and memory. This was compared to an alternative model with depressive symptoms as a mediator. Vascular risk was unrelated to memory and DMN FC in all models, while stronger DMN FC predicted poorer memory performance. Neither DMN FC nor depressive symptoms acted as mediators. The impact of vascular risk on the DMN in aging should be further explored using a comprehensive multimethod approach, along with other potential causes of age-related DMN disruption.

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Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.