Performance level modulates adult age differences in brain activation during spatial working memory.

Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America
Irene E NagelHauke R Heekeren


Working memory (WM) shows pronounced age-related decline. Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies have revealed age differences in task-related brain activation. Evidence based primarily on episodic memory studies suggests that brain activation patterns can be modulated by task difficulty in both younger and older adults. In most fMRI aging studies on WM, however, performance level has not been considered, so that age differences in activation patterns are confounded with age differences in performance level. Here, we address this issue by comparing younger and older low and high performers in an event-related fMRI study. Thirty younger (20-30 years) and 30 older (60-70 years) healthy adults were tested with a spatial WM task with three load levels. A region-of-interest analysis revealed marked differences in the activation patterns between high and low performers in both age groups. Critically, among the older adults, a more "youth-like" load-dependent modulation of the blood oxygen level-dependent signal was associated with higher levels of spatial WM performance. These findings underscore the need of taking performance level into account when studying changes in functional brain activation patterns from early to...Continue Reading


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