Age-related macular degeneration (AMD), the leading cause of blindness in developed nations, has been associated with poor performance on tests of phonemic fluency. This pilot study sought to (1) characterize the relationship between phonemic fluency and resting-state functional brain connectivity in AMD patients and (2) determine whether regional connections associated with phonemic fluency in AMD patients were similarly linked to phonemic fluency in healthy participants. Behavior-based connectivity analysis was applied to resting-state, functional magnetic resonance imaging data from seven patients (mean age=79.9±7.5 years) with bilateral AMD who completed fluency tasks prior to imaging. Phonemic fluency was inversely related to the strength of functional connectivity (FC) among six pairs of brain regions, representing eight nodes: left opercular portion of inferior frontal gyrus (which includes Broca's area), left superior temporal gyrus (which includes part of Wernicke's area), inferior parietal lobe (bilaterally), right superior parietal lobe, right supramarginal gyrus, right supplementary motor area, and right precentral gyrus. The FC of these reference links was not related to phonemic fluency among 32 healthy individuals (16 younger adults, mean age=23.5±4.6 years and 16 older adults, mean age=68.3±3.4 years). Compared with healthy individuals, AMD patients exhibited higher mean connectivity within the reference links and within the default mode network, possibly reflecting compensatory changes to support performance in the setting of reduced vision. These findings are consistent with the hypothesis that phonemic fluency deficits in AMD reflect underlying brain changes that develop in the context of AMD.
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