The role of global motion perception and cortical visual motion area dynamics in visual path integration in cognitively intact aged adults
Zajac, Lauren Elizabeth
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Spatial navigation is a cognitive skill fundamental to successful interaction with our environment. Normal aging is associated with weaknesses in this skill, with severe deficits in the context of Alzheimer's disease. Identifying mechanisms underlying how the aged brain navigates is important to understanding these age-related weaknesses and potentially strengthening or preserving spatial navigation ability in the aging population. One understudied aspect of spatial navigation is self-motion perception. Important to self-motion perception is optic flow, which is the pattern of visual motion experienced while moving through our environment. Several brain regions are optic flow-sensitive (OF-sensitive), responding more strongly to optic flow than other types of visual motion. The goal of the experiments in this dissertation was to examine the role of visual motion perception and cortical motion area dynamics in spatial navigation in cognitively intact aged adults. Visual path integration tasks were used because they highlight the use of radial and translational optic flow to keep track of one’s position and orientation, respectively. In the first experiment, a positive relationship between radial optic flow sensitivity and visual path integration accuracy that was stronger in aged adults was found. In the second experiment, brain activity was measured using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) while participants performed visual path integration (VPI) and turn counting (TC) tasks. Stronger activity in the OF-sensitive regions LMT+ and RpVIP during VPI, not TC, was associated with greater VPI accuracy in aged adults. In the third experiment, the functional connectivity between OF-sensitive regions and the rest of the brain during the VPI and TC tasks was measured using fMRI. Stronger average functional connectivity between the OF-sensitive regions LMT+, RMT+, LpVIP, RpVIP, LpV6 and right supramarginal gyrus and posterior cingulate during VPI, not TC, was associated with greater VPI task accuracy in aged adults. The results demonstrate novel relationships between visual path integration accuracy and radial motion perception, the response of OF-sensitive cortical regions during visual navigation, and the interaction strength between OF-sensitive regions and parietal cortex during visual navigation in aged adults. This work expands our knowledge of mechanisms underlying spatial navigation processes in the aged human brain.