Age-related olfactory decline, or presbyosmia, is a prevalent condition with potentially devastating consequences on both quality of life and safety. Despite clear evidence for this decline, it is unknown whether presbyosmia is sex-dependent and also whether it is due to central or peripheral olfactory system deterioration. Therefore, the goals of this study were to investigate the neurofunctional substrate of olfactory decline and examine its relationship to age and sex in thirty-seven (18 women, 19 men) healthy older participants using olfactory functional MRI (fMRI). The olfactory fMRI paradigm utilized unique odor+visual and visual-only conditions to contrast peripheral-to-central and central-to-central olfactory processing, respectively. Age was negatively correlated with fMRI activation in olfactory-related regions. Significant aging effects were identifiable in male participants in all target regions. Female participants, however, showed a different pattern of functional decline. Extended unified structural equation modeling (euSEM) analysis revealed that the effective functional connectivity profile was drastically different between male and female participants, with females manifesting a top-down mechanism to offset age-related olfactory activation decline. Our results support the hypotheses that the central olfactory system is involved in age-related olfactory decline, and that resilience to age-related olfactory decline in women may be due to their profuse olfactory network effective connectivity.
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