Neuroprotective effects of motherhood on brain function in late life: a resting-state fMRI study

Edwina R. Orchard, Phillip G.D. Ward, Sidhant Chopra, Elsdon Storey, Gary F. Egan, Sharna D. Jamadar

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)


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 aging 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 ± 3.53 years) and 252 healthy older males (73.95 ± 3.50 years). We compared the patterns of resting-state functional connectivity with 3 different models of age-related functional change to assess whether these effects may be functionally neuroprotective for the aging 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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1270-1283
Number of pages14
JournalCerebral Cortex
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2021


  • aging
  • neuroprotection
  • parenthood
  • resting-state functional connectivity

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