The maternal brain undergoes structural and functional plasticity during pregnancy and the postpartum period. Little is known about functional plasticity outside caregiving-specific contexts, and whether changes persist across the lifespan.
Structural neuroimaging studies suggest that parenthood may confer a protective effect against the ageing process, however it is unknown whether parenthood is associated with functional brain differences in late-life. We examined the relationship between resting state functional connectivity and number of children parented in 220 healthy older females (73.82+/-3.53years) and 252 healthy older males (73.95+/-3.50years). We compared patterns of resting state functional connectivity with three different models of age-related functional change to assess whether these effects may be functionally neuroprotective for the ageing human parental brain. No relationship between functional connectivity and number of children was obtained for males. For females, we found widespread decreasing functional connectivity with increasing number of children parented, with increased segregation between networks, decreased connectivity between hemispheres, and decreased connectivity between anterior and posterior regions. The patterns of functional connectivity related to the number of children an older woman has parented were in the opposite direction to those usually associated with age-related cognitive decline, suggesting that motherhood may be beneficial for brain function in late-life.
bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience