About this Research Topic
As populations experience a rapid growth of its older segments, a major neuroscientific research goal is to increase our knowledge about mechanisms that sustain healthy brain aging, as well as to promote initiatives to prevent neuropsychiatric age-associated disorders. A body of investigations combining behavioral paradigms, neuroimaging and electrophysiological techniques have helped to characterize how brain structure and function are modified by physiological age or age-related neuropathological processes. The mechanisms underlying those changes can be conceptualized within the broad field of “brain plasticity”: here, we particularly refer to the dynamic intrinsic, as well as to life-long adaptive capabilities of the brain, which however are highly dependent by individual differences. Non-invasive brain stimulation (NIBS) techniques such as transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) or transcranial alternating current stimulation (tACS) allow to assess or modulate neuroplastic phenomena in an experimentally controlled manner. For example NIBS may be used to directly induce temporary modifications (increases or decreases) of cortical excitability or connectivity of brain networks, and then investigate if they translate to behavioral or cognitive changes. Likewise, NIBS can be used to quantify the effects of behavioral training programs or pharmacological manipulations on plastic remodeling of critical brain circuits, providing mechanistic, often causal, evidences of therapeutic interventions. While previous studies integrating NIBS with behavioral and neuroimaging paradigms have been increasingly reported in the scientific literature, its specific application in elder populations is still scarce and many unanswered questions remain. For example, how brain responses to NIBS, as captured by functional neuroimaging or electrophysiology, differ between young and elder populations? Can NIBS alone or in combination with behavioral interventions facilitate training-induced plasticity and translate to enhancements of performance in elders in a reliable manner (and/or delay age-associated cognitive decline)? To what extend baseline functional and structural brain characteristics modulate the impact of NIBS in aging? What are the most relevant individual variables (i.e. genetic variations, pharmacological agents, presence of disease biomarkers, cognitive reserve / educational status) influencing NIBS studies of brain plasticity in elders? This topic is aimed to shed new light in how NIBS can be used to better understand and optimize brain plasticity mechanisms in aging.
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