Executive dysfunction is a common and disabling component of late-life depression (LLD), yet its neural mechanisms remain unclear. In particular, it is not yet known how executive functioning in LLD relates to measures of cortical physiology that may change with age and illness, namely cortical inhibition/excitation and plasticity. Here, we used transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) to measure cortical inhibition/excitation (n = 51), and the potentiation of cortical activity following paired associative stimulation, which is thought to reflect long-term potentiation (LTP)-like cortical plasticity (n = 32). We assessed the correlation between these measures of cortical physiology and two measures of executive functioning: cognitive inhibition, assessed using the Delis–Kaplan Executive Function System Color-Word Interference [“Stroop”] Test, and cognitive flexibility, assessed using the Trail Making Test. Correlations with recall memory and processing speed were also performed to assess the specificity of any associations to executive functioning. A significant correlation was found between greater LTP-like cortical plasticity and poorer cognitive inhibition, a core executive function (rp = −0.56, p < 0.001). We did not observe significant associations between cortical inhibition/excitation and executive functioning, or between any neurophysiological measure and cognitive flexibility, memory, or processing speed. Our finding that elevated cortical plasticity is associated with diminished cognitive inhibition emphasizes the importance of balanced synaptic strengthening to healthy cognition. More specifically, our findings suggest that hyper-excitability of cortical circuits following repeated cortical activation may promote inappropriate prepotent responses in LLD. LTP-like cortical plasticity might therefore represent a neural mechanism underlying an inhibitory control cognitive endophenotype of LLD.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Psychiatry and Mental health