The literature examining the relationship between cardiorespiratory fitness and the brain in older adults has increased rapidly, with 30 of 34 studies published since 2008. Here we review cross-sectional and exercise intervention studies in older adults examining the relationship between cardiorespiratory fitness and brain structure and function, typically assessed using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). Studies of patients with Alzheimer's disease are discussed when available. The structural MRI studies revealed a consistent positive relationship between cardiorespiratory fitness and brain volume in cortical regions including anterior cingulate, lateral prefrontal, and lateral parietal cortex. Support for a positive relationship between cardiorespiratory fitness and medial temporal lobe volume was less consistent, although evident when a region-of-interest approach was implemented. In fMRI studies, cardiorespiratory fitness in older adults was associated with activation in similar regions as those identified in the structural studies, including anterior cingulate, lateral prefrontal, and lateral parietal cortex, despite heterogeneity among the functional tasks implemented. This comprehensive review highlights the overlap in brain regions showing a positive relationship with cardiorespiratory fitness in both structural and functional imaging modalities. The findings suggest that aerobic exercise and cardiorespiratory fitness contribute to healthy brain aging, although additional studies in Alzheimer's disease are needed.
exercise; physical fitness; physical activity; fMRI; structural MRI; diffusion tensor imaging; episodic memory; executive functions
The basal ganglia play a central role in regulating the response selection abilities that are critical for mental flexibility. In neocortical areas, higher cardiorespiratory fitness levels are associated with increased gray matter volume, and these volumetric differences mediate enhanced cognitive performance in a variety of tasks. Here we examine whether cardiorespiratory fitness correlates with the volume of the subcortical nuclei that make up the basal ganglia and whether this relationship predicts cognitive flexibility in older adults. Structural MRI was used to determine the volume of the basal ganglia nuclei in a group of older, neurologically healthy individuals (mean age 66 years, N = 179). Measures of cardiorespiratory fitness (VO2max), cognitive flexibility (task switching), and attentional control (flanker task) were also collected. Higher fitness levels were correlated with higher accuracy rates in the Task Switching paradigm. In addition, the volume of the caudate nucleus, putamen, and globus pallidus positively correlated with Task Switching accuracy. Nested regression modeling revealed that caudate nucleus volume was a significant mediator of the relationship between cardiorespiratory fitness, and task switching performance. These findings indicate that higher cardiorespiratory fitness predicts better cognitive flexibility in older adults through greater grey matter volume in the dorsal striatum.
Different elements of physical fitness in children have shown a declining trend during the past few decades. Cardiorespiratory fitness and motor skills have been associated with cognition, but the magnitude of this association remains unknown. The purpose of this review is to provide an overview of the relationship of cardiorespiratory fitness and motor skills with cognitive functions and academic performance in children up to 13 years of age. Cross-sectional studies suggest that children with higher cardiorespiratory fitness have more efficient cognitive processing at the neuroelectric level, as well as larger hippocampal and basal ganglia volumes, compared to children with lower cardiorespiratory fitness. Higher cardiorespiratory fitness has been associated with better inhibitory control in tasks requiring rigorous attention allocation. Better motor skills have been related to more efficient cognitive functions including inhibitory control and working memory. Higher cardiorespiratory fitness and better motor skills have also been associated with better academic performance. Furthermore, none of the studies on cardiorespiratory fitness have revealed independent associations with cognitive functions by controlling for motor skills. Studies concerning the relationship between motor skills and cognitive functions also did not consider cardiorespiratory fitness in the analyses. The results of this review suggest that high levels of cardiorespiratory fitness and motor skills may be beneficial for cognitive development and academic performance but the evidence relies mainly on cross-sectional studies.
physical fitness; movement skills; physical activity; children; scholastic achievement
The influence of age and fitness on the neuroelectric correlates of attentional orienting and processing during stimulus discrimination were investigated. Younger and older adult participants completed a maximal aerobic exercise test and were separated into higher- and lower-fit groups according to their cardiorespiratory fitness. Task performance and event-related potential measures were obtained during two- and three-stimulus oddball tasks. Results indicated that fitness may ameliorate or protect against cognitive aging for simple stimulus discriminations. Increases in task difficulty indicated that fitness may not be sufficient to overcome age-related deficits in stimulus discrimination. Further, fitness did not influence attentional orienting. The findings suggest that fitness-related changes in cognitive function may originate from other attentional mechanisms. Theoretical implications are discussed.
Age; Fitness; Stimulus discrimination; Attentional orienting; Task difficulty; P300; P3a; P3b
Aging is marked by a decline in cognitive function, which is often preceded by losses in gray matter volume. Fortunately, higher cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) levels are associated with an attenuation of age-related losses in gray matter volume and a reduced risk for cognitive impairment. Despite these links, we have only a rudimentary understanding of whether fitness-related increases in gray matter volume lead to elevated cognitive function. In this cross-sectional study, we examined whether the association between higher aerobic fitness levels and elevated executive function was mediated by greater gray matter volume in the prefrontal cortex (PFC). One hundred and forty-two older adults (mean age = 66.6 years) completed structural magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, CRF assessments, and performed Stroop and spatial working memory (SPWM) tasks. Gray matter volume was assessed using an optimized voxel-based morphometry approach. Consistent with our predictions, higher fitness levels were associated with (a) better performance on both the Stroop and SPWM tasks, and (b) greater gray matter volume in several regions, including the dorsolateral PFC (DLPFC). Volume of the right inferior frontal gyrus and precentral gyrus mediated the relationship between CRF and Stroop interference while a non-overlapping set of regions bilaterally in the DLPFC mediated the association between CRF and SPWM accuracy. These results suggest that specific regions of the DLPFC differentially relate to inhibition and spatial working memory. Thus, fitness may influence cognitive function by reducing brain atrophy in targeted areas in healthy older adults.
cardiorespiratory fitness; executive function; voxel-based morphometry; cortical volume; prefrontal cortex; mediation
With the growing trend toward engagement in sedentary behaviors during childhood, a greater understanding of the relationship between cardiorespiratory fitness and cognition during development is of increasing importance.
The aim of this investigation was to assess the extent to which failures in sustained attention may underlie deficits in cognition associated with poorer aerobic fitness.
A sample of 62 preadolescent children between the ages of 9 and 10 years were separated into higher- and lower-fit groups according to their cardiorespiratory fitness.
Findings indicated that lower-fit children exhibited poorer overall response accuracy during a task requiring aspects of cognitive control relative to their higher-fit counterparts, with a disproportionately greater number of errors of omission, and longer, more frequent sequential errors of omission.
These findings suggest that poorer vigilance may contribute to deficits in cognitive control associated with poorer aerobic fitness.
Cognition; Development; Cardiorespiratory Fitness; Vigilance Decrement
To improve behavior, one must detect errors and initiate subsequent corrective adaptations. This action monitoring process has been widely studied, but little is known about how one may improve this aspect of cognition. To examine the relationship between cardiorespiratory fitness and action monitoring, we recorded the error-related negativity (ERN), an event-related brain potential believed to index action monitoring, as well as post-error behavioral indices of action monitoring from healthy young adults (18–25 years) who varied in cardiorespiratory fitness. These measures were collected during the execution of flanker tasks emphasizing response accuracy or speed to better assess the specificity of any potential relationships between fitness and action monitoring. Higher fitness was associated with greater post-error accuracy and ERN amplitude during task conditions emphasizing accuracy, as well as greater modulation of these indices across task instruction conditions. These findings suggest that higher fitness is associated with increased cognitive flexibility, evidenced through greater change in action monitoring indices as a function of task parameters. Thus, fitness may benefit action monitoring by selectively increasing cognitive control under conditions where error detection and performance adjustments are more salient.
Cognitive Control; Action Monitoring; Error-Related Negativity (ERN); Event-Related Brain Potentials (ERPs); Fitness
Although basic research has uncovered biological mechanisms by which exercise could maintain and enhance adult brain health, experimental human studies with older adults have produced equivocal results.
This randomized clinical trial aimed to investigate the hypotheses that (a) the effects of exercise training on the performance of neurocognitive tasks in older adults is selective, influencing mainly tasks with a substantial executive control component and (b) performance in neurocognitive tasks is related to cardiorespiratory fitness.
Fifty-seven older adults (65−79 years) participated in aerobic or strength-and-flexibility exercise training for 10 months. Neurocognitive tasks were selected to reflect a range from little (e.g., simple reaction time) to substantial (i.e., Stroop Word–Color conflict) executive control.
Performance in tasks requiring little executive control was unaffected by participating in aerobic exercise. Improvements in Stroop Word–Color task performance were found only for the aerobic exercise group. Changes in aerobic fitness were unrelated to changes in neurocognitive function.
Aerobic exercise in older adults can have a beneficial effect on the performance of speeded tasks that rely heavily on executive control. Improvements in aerobic fitness do not appear to be a prerequisite for this beneficial effect.
Stroop; Wisconsin Card Sort Test; Cardiorespiratory fitness; Executive processing; Aerobic exercise
We investigated the relative involvement of cortical regions supporting attentional control in older and younger adults during performance on a modified version of the Stroop task. Participants were exposed to two different types of incongruent trials. One of these, an incongruent-ineligible condition, produces conflict at the non-response level, while the second, an incongruent-eligible condition, produces conflict at both non-response and response levels of information processing. Greater attentional control is needed to perform the incongruent-eligible condition compared to other conditions. We examined the cortical recruitment associated with this task in an event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging paradigm in twenty-five older and twenty-five younger adults. Our results indicated that while younger adults demonstrated an increase in the activation of cortical regions responsible for maintaining attentional control in response to increased levels of conflict, such sensitivity and flexibility of the cortical regions to increased attentional control demands was absent in older adults. These results suggest a limitation in older adults’ capabilities for flexibly recruiting the attentional network in response to increasing attentional demands.
attentional control; aging; fMRI; flexibility; Stroop task; interference; inhibition
This study examined whether individual differences in aerobic fitness are associated with differences in activation of cognitive control brain networks in preadolescent children. As expected, children performed worse on a measure of cognitive control compared to a group of young adults. However, individual differences in aerobic fitness were associated with cognitive control performance among children. Lower-fit children had disproportionate performance cost in accuracy with increasing task difficulty, relative to higher-fit children. Brain activation was compared between performance-matched groups of lower- and higher-fit children. Fitness groups differed in brain activity for regions associated with response execution and inhibition, task set maintenance, and top-down regulation. Overall, differing activation patterns coupled with different patterns of brain-behavior correlations suggest an important role of aerobic fitness in modulating task strategy and the efficiency of neural networks that implement cognitive control in preadolescent children.
exercise; physical activity; aerobic fitness; executive control; fMRI; development
Advanced aging is associated with reduced attentional control and less flexible information processing. Here, the origins of these cognitive effects were explored using a functional magnetic resonance imaging task that systematically varied demands to shift attention and inhibit irrelevant information across task blocks. Prefrontal and parietal regions previously implicated in attentional control were recruited by the task and most so for the most demanding task configurations. A subset of older individuals did not modulate activity in frontal and parietal regions in response to changing task requirements. Older adults who did not dynamically modulate activity underperformed their peers and scored more poorly on neuropsychological measures of executive function and speed of processing. Examining 2 markers of preclinical pathology in older adults revealed that white matter hyperintensities (WMHs), but not high amyloid burden, were associated with failure to modulate activity in response to changing task demands. In contrast, high amyloid burden was associated with alterations in default network activity. These results suggest failure to modulate frontal and parietal activity reflects a disruptive process in advanced aging associated with specific neuropathologic processes.
aging; amyloid beta; executive function; fMRI; individual differences; PET
Older adults often exhibit greater brain activation in prefrontal cortex compared to younger adults, and there is some evidence that this increased activation compensates for age-related neural degradation that would otherwise adversely affect cognitive performance. Less is known about aging and compensatory recruitment in the parietal cortex. In this event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging study, we presented healthy young and old participants with two Stroop-like tasks (number magnitude and physical size). In young, the number magnitude task activated right parietal cortex and the physical size task activated left parietal cortex. In older adults, we observed contralateral parietal recruitment that depended on the task: in the number magnitude task older participants recruited left posterior parietal cortex (in addition to the right parietal activity observed in young) while in the physical size task they recruited right (in addition to left) posterior parietal cortex. In both cases, the additional parietal activity was associated with better performance suggesting that it played a compensatory role. Older adults also recruited left prefrontal cortex during both tasks and this common activation was also associated with better performance. The results provide evidence for task-specific compensatory recruitment in parietal cortex as well as task-independent compensatory recruitment in prefrontal cortex in normal aging.
Age-related compensation; Event-related fMRI; Interference resolution; Posterior parietal cortex; Prefrontal cortex
The present investigation is the first to explore the association between childhood aerobic fitness and basal ganglia structure and function. Rodent research has revealed that exercise influences the striatum by increasing dopamine signaling and angiogenesis. In children, higher aerobic fitness levels are associated with greater hippocampal volumes, superior performance on tasks of attentional and interference control, and elevated event-related brain potential indices of executive function. The present study used magnetic resonance imaging to investigate if higher-fit and lower-fit 9- and 10-year-old children exhibited differential volumes of other subcortical brain regions, specifically the basal ganglia involved in attentional control. The relationship between aerobic fitness, dorsal and ventral striatum volumes and performance on an attention and inhibition Eriksen flanker task was also examined. The results indicated that higher-fit children showed superior flanker task performance compared to lower-fit children. Higher-fit children also showed greater volumes of the dorsal striatum, and dorsal striatum volume was negatively associated with behavioral interference. The results support the claim that the dorsal striatum is involved in cognitive control and response resolution and that these cognitive processes vary as a function of aerobic fitness. No relationship was found between aerobic fitness, the volume of the ventral striatum and flanker performance. The findings suggest that increased childhood aerobic fitness is associated with greater dorsal striatal volumes and that this is related to enhanced cognitive control. Because children are becoming increasingly overweight, unhealthy and unfit, understanding the neurocognitive benefits of an active lifestyle during childhood has important public health and educational implications.
Brain; Development; Exercise; MRI; Physical activity; Neurocognition; Neuroimaging; Striatum
The present research examined the hypothesis that cognitive processes are modulated differentially by trait and state negative affect (NA). Brain activation associated with trait and state NA was measured by fMRI during an attentional control task, the emotion-word Stroop. Performance on the task was disrupted only by state NA. Trait NA was associated with reduced activity in several regions, including a prefrontal area that has been shown to be involved in top-down, goal-directed attentional control. In contrast, state NA was associated with increased activity in several regions, including a prefrontal region that has been shown to be involved in stimulus-driven aspects of attentional control. Results suggest that NA has a significant impact on cognition, and that state and trait NA disrupt attentional control in distinct ways.
negative affect; attentional control; prefrontal cortex; emotion; fMRI
Aerobic exercise is a promising form of prevention for cognitive decline; however, little is known about the molecular mechanisms by which exercise and fitness impacts the human brain. Several studies have postulated that increased regional brain volume and function are associated with aerobic fitness because of increased vascularization rather than increased neural tissue per se. We tested this position by examining the relationship between cardiorespiratory fitness and N-acetylaspartate (NAA) levels in the right frontal cortex using magnetic resonance spectroscopy. NAA is a nervous system specific metabolite found predominantly in cell bodies of neurons. We reasoned that if aerobic fitness was predominantly influencing the vasculature of the brain, then NAA levels should not vary as a function of aerobic fitness. However, if aerobic fitness influences the number or viability of neurons, then higher aerobic fitness levels might be associated with greater concentrations of NAA. We examined NAA levels, aerobic fitness, and cognitive performance in 137 older adults without cognitive impairment. Consistent with the latter hypothesis, we found that higher aerobic fitness levels offset an age-related decline in NAA. Furthermore, NAA mediated an association between fitness and backward digit span performance, suggesting that neuronal viability as measured by NAA is important in understanding fitness-related cognitive enhancement. Since NAA is found exclusively in neural tissue, our results indicate that the effect of fitness on the human brain extends beyond vascularization; aerobic fitness is associated with neuronal viability in the frontal cortex of older adults.
Aging; brain; exercise; fitness; human; N-acetylaspartate; working memory
The developmental cognitive neuroscience literature has grown exponentially over the last decade. This paper reviews the functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) literature on brain function development of typically late developing functions of cognitive and motivation control, timing and attention as well as of resting state neural networks. Evidence shows that between childhood and adulthood, concomitant with cognitive maturation, there is progressively increased functional activation in task-relevant lateral and medial frontal, striatal and parieto-temporal brain regions that mediate these higher level control functions. This is accompanied by progressively stronger functional inter-regional connectivity within task-relevant fronto-striatal and fronto-parieto-temporal networks. Negative age associations are observed in earlier developing posterior and limbic regions, suggesting a shift with age from the recruitment of “bottom-up” processing regions towards “top-down” fronto-cortical and fronto-subcortical connections, leading to a more mature, supervised cognition. The resting state fMRI literature further complements this evidence by showing progressively stronger deactivation with age in anti-correlated task-negative resting state networks, which is associated with better task performance. Furthermore, connectivity analyses during the resting state show that with development increasingly stronger long-range connections are being formed, for example, between fronto-parietal and fronto-cerebellar connections, in both task-positive networks and in task-negative default mode networks, together with progressively lesser short-range connections, suggesting progressive functional integration and segregation with age. Overall, evidence suggests that throughout development between childhood and adulthood, there is progressive refinement and integration of both task-positive fronto-cortical and fronto-subcortical activation and task-negative deactivation, leading to a more mature and controlled cognition.
fMRI; Development; Maturation; Cognitive control; Inhibition; Timing; Attention; Motivation; Decision making; Resting state; Default mode network (DMN); Attention; Functional connectivity
There is increasing evidence that cardiorespiratory fitness (CRF) is associated with brain structure and function, and improvements in CRF through exercise training have been associated with neural and cognitive functioning in older adults. The objectives of this study were to validate the use of a non-exercise estimate of CRF, and to examine its association with cognitive function, brain structure and subjective memory complaints. Low active, older adults (N = 86; M age= 65.14) completed a physician-supervised maximal exercise test, a 1-mile timed walk, several measures of cognitive function, and a 3 Tesla structural MRI. Fitness was also calculated from an equation derived by (Jurca et al., 2005) based on age, sex, body mass index, resting heart rate, and self-reported physical activity level. Analyses indicated that all three measures of CRF were significantly correlated with one another. In addition, measures of cognitive function, hippocampus volume, and memory complaints were significantly correlated with each measure of fitness. These findings have implications for using a low-risk, low-cost, non-exercise estimate of CRF in determining fitness associations with brain structure and cognitive function in older adults. As such, this measure may have utility for larger population based studies. Further validation is required, as is determination of whether such relationships hold over the course of exercise interventions.
Equation-derived CRF; cognitive function; hippocampus; older adults
The present study examined the effects of a 9-month randomized control physical activity intervention aimed at improving cardiorespiratory fitness on changes in working memory performance in preadolescent children relative to a waitlist control group. Participants performed a modified Sternberg task, which manipulated working memory demands based on encoding set sizes, while task performance and the contingent negative variation (CNV) event-related brain potential were measured. Analyses revealed that the physical activity intervention led to increases in cardiorespiratory fitness and improved Sternberg task performance. Further, the beneficial effects of the physical activity intervention were greater for a task condition requiring greater working memory demands. In addition, the intervention group exhibited larger initial CNV at the frontal electrode site, relative to the waitlist group at post-test; an effect not observed during the pre-test. These results indicate that increases in cardiorespiratory fitness are associated with improvements in the cognitive control of working memory in preadolescent children.
Using data from 34 participants who completed an emotion-word Stroop task during functional magnetic resonance imaging, we examined the effects of adult attachment on neural activity associated with top-down cognitive control in the presence of emotional distractors. Individuals with lower levels of secure-base-script knowledge—reflected in an adult’s inability to generate narratives in which attachment-related threats are recognized, competent help is provided, and the problem is resolved—demonstrated more activity in prefrontal cortical regions associated with emotion regulation (e.g., right orbitofrontal cortex) and with top-down cognitive control (left dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, anterior cingulate cortex, and superior frontal gyrus). Less efficient performance and related increases in brain activity suggest that insecure attachment involves a vulnerability to distraction by attachment-relevant emotional information and that greater cognitive control is required to attend to task-relevant, nonemotional information. These results contribute to the understanding of mechanisms through which attachment-related experiences may influence developmental adaptation.
attachment; secure-base-script knowledge; cognitive control; emotion regulation; Stroop; fMRI
Sedentary behaviour is a major risk factor for developing chronic diseases and is associated with low cardiorespiratory fitness in adults. It remains unclear how sedentary behaviour and different physical activity subcomponents are related to cardiorespiratory fitness in children. The purpose of this study was to assess how sedentary behaviour and different physical activity subcomponents are associated with 10–14 year-old schoolchildren's cardiorespiratory fitness.
135 schoolchildren (81 girls, 12±1 year) completed 7-day minute-by-minute habitual physical activity monitoring using triaxial accelerometers and undertook a maximal cardiorespiratory fitness test.
After controlling for sex, age, ethnicity, socioeconomic status and total wear time, light physical activity (1.5–2.9 METs) was negatively associated (β = −.24, p<.01) and hard physical activity (≥9 METs) positively associated (β = .45, p<.001) with cardiorespiratory fitness. Vigorous and hard physical activity were associated with cardiorespiratory fitness for boys (F = 5.64, p<.01) whereas light, moderate and hard physical activity were associated with physical fitness for girls (F = 10.23, p<.001). No association was found between sedentary time and cardiorespiratory fitness (r = −.13, p>.05). Sedentary to active transitions revealed little variability between cardiorespiratory fitness tertiles.
Hard physical activity (≥9 METs) holds greater potential for cardiorespiratory fitness compared to physical activity of lower intensities. There was no relationship between sedentary behaviour and cardiorespiratory fitness. These findings suggest that, for children, advice should focus on higher intensity physical activity and not sedentary behaviour as a means to maintain or improve cardiorespiratory fitness. Future research should explore longitudinal relationships between hard physical activity, cardiorespiratory fitness and health parameters.
Alterations in gray and white matter have been well documented in individuals with multiple sclerosis. Severity and extent of such brain tissue damage have been associated with cognitive impairment, disease duration and neurological disability, making quantitative indices of tissue damage important markers of disease progression. In this study, we investigated the association between cardiorespiratory fitness and measures of gray matter atrophy and white matter integrity. Employing a voxel-based approach to analyses of gray matter and white matter, we specifically examined whether higher levels of fitness in multiple sclerosis participants were associated with preserved gray matter volume and integrity of white matter. We found a positive association between cardiorespiratory fitness and regional gray matter volumes and higher focal fractional anisotropy values. Statistical mapping revealed that higher levels of fitness were associated with greater gray matter volume in the midline cortical structures including the medial frontal gyrus, anterior cingulate cortex and the precuneus. Further, we also found increasing levels of fitness were associated with higher fractional anisotropy in the left thalamic radiation and right anterior corona radiata. Both preserved gray matter volume and white-matter tract integrity were associated with better performance on measures of processing speed. Taken together, these results suggest that fitness exerts a prophylactic influence on the cerebral atrophy observed early on preserving neuronal integrity in multiple sclerosis, thereby reducing long-term disability.
Cortical atrophy; normal appearing gray matter; normal appearing white matter; cardiorespiratory fitness; processing speed; relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis; neuroplasticity
We combined measures from event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), diffusion tensor imaging (DTI), and cognitive performance (visual search response time) to test the hypotheses that differences between younger and older adults in top-down (goal-directed) attention would be related to cortical activation, and that white matter integrity as measured by DTI (fractional anisotropy, FA) would be a mediator of this age-related effect. Activation in frontal and parietal cortical regions was overall greater for older adults than for younger adults. The relation between activation and search performance supported the hypothesis of age differences in top-down attention. When the task involved top-down control (increased target predictability), performance was associated with frontoparietal activation for older adults, but with occipital (fusiform) activation for younger adults. White matter integrity (FA) exhibited an age-related decline that was more pronounced for anterior brain regions than for posterior regions, but white matter integrity did not specifically mediate the age-related increase in activation of the frontoparietal attentional network.
Aging; Neuroimaging; White matter; Brain activation; Fractional anisotropy; Region of interest; Top-down processing; Visual search; Perception; Cognition; Response time
Functional neuroimaging studies of endogenous cued attention suggest that a fronto-parietal attentional network keeps track of current task objectives in working memory and enhances activity in posterior sensory regions that underlie the perceptual processing of behaviorally relevant stimuli. Relatively little is known, however, about whether consciously perceived, irrelevant instructional cues can hijack the attentional network, leading to an enhancement of the perceptual processing of irrelevant stimuli. Using a cross-modal attentional cueing task in combination with functional magnetic resonance imaging, we found that such irrelevant cues can indeed hijack the attentional network, as indexed by increased activity in (a) frontal regions that control attention and (b) sensory cortices that underlie the perceptual processing of task-irrelevant stimuli. Furthermore, we found that in left ventrolateral (but not dorsolateral) prefrontal regions, the magnitude of this increased activity varies with whether an irrelevant instructional cue is presented simultaneously with (versus after) a relevant instructional cue. These findings show that consciously perceived, irrelevant instructional cues can activate inappropriate task objectives in working memory, resulting in a hijacking of the attentional network. Moreover, they reveal different time courses of hijacking effects in ventrolateral and dorsolateral prefrontal regions, consistent with models in which these regions make distinct contributions to cognitive control.
fMRI; attention; visual; auditory
Human behavioral data indicate that older adults are slower to perform lexical decisions (LDs) than young adults but show similar reaction time gains when these decisions are primed semantically. The present study explored the functional neuroanatomic bases of these frequently observed behavioral findings. Young and older groups completed unprimed and primed LD tasks while functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was recorded, using a fully randomized trial design paralleling those used in behavioral research. Results from the unprimed task found that age-related slowing of LD was associated with decreased activation in perceptual extrastriate regions and increased activation in regions associated with higher level linguistic processes, including prefrontal cortex. In contrast to these age-related changes in brain activation, the older group showed a preserved pattern of fMRI decreases in inferior temporal cortex when LD was primed semantically. These findings provide evidence that older adults’ LD abilities benefit from contexts that reduce the need for frontally mediated strategic processes and capitalize on the continued sensitivity of inferior temporal cortex to automatic semantic processes in aging.
aging; fMRI; lexical decision; prefrontal cortex; priming; reaction time
Cocaine abstinence is associated with impaired performance in cognitive functions including attention, vigilance and executive function. Here we test the hypothesis that cognitive dysfunction during cocaine abstinence reflects in part impairment of cortical and subcortical regions modulated by dopamine. We used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to study brain activation to a verbal working memory task in cocaine abusers (n = 16) and healthy controls (n = 16). Compared to controls, cocaine abusers showed: (1) hypoactivation in the mesencephalon, where dopamine neurons are located, as well as the thalamus, a brain region involved in arousal; (2) larger deactivation in dopamine projection regions (putamen, anterior cingulate, parahippocampal gyrus, and amygdala); and (3) hyperactivation in cortical regions involved with attention (prefrontal and parietal cortices), which probably reflects increased attention and control processes as compensatory mechanisms. Furthermore, the working memory load activation was lower in the prefrontal and parietal cortices in cocaine abusers when compared with controls, which might reflect limited network capacity. These abnormalities were accentuated in the cocaine abusers with positive urines for cocaine at time of study (as compared to cocaine abusers with negative urines) suggesting that the deficits may reflect in part early cocaine abstinence. These findings provide evidence of impaired function of regions involved with executive control, attention and vigilance in cocaine abusers. This widespread neurofunctional disruption is likely to underlie the cognitive deficits during early cocaine abstinence, and to reflect involvement of dopamine as well as other neurotransmitters.