The functional brain favours segregated modular connectivity at old age unless targeted by neurodegeneration
Brain’s modular connectivity gives this organ resilience and adaptability. The ageing process alters the human brain, leading to modifications to its organised modularity and these changes are further accentuated by neurodegeneration, leading to disorganisation. To understand this further, we analysed modular variability—heterogeneity of modules—and modular dissociation—detachment from segregated connectivity—in two ageing cohorts and a mixed cohort of neurodegenerative diseases. Our results revealed that the brain follows a universal pattern of modular variability that matches highly active and metacognitive brain regions: the association cortices. We also proved that in ageing the brain moves towards a modular segregated structure despite presenting with increased modular heterogeneity—modules in older adults are not only segregated but their shape and size are more variable than in young adults. In the presence of neurodegeneration, the brain maintains its segregated connectivity globally but not locally; the modular brain shows patterns of differentiated pathology.