Although it is well-documented that there are age differences between young and older adults in neural activity associated with successful memory formation (positive subsequent memory effects), little is known about how this activation differs across the lifespan, as few studies have included middle-aged adults. The present study investigated the effect of age on neural activity during episodic encoding using a cross-sectional lifespan sample (20–79 years old, N=192) from the Dallas Lifespan Brain Study. We report four major findings. First, in a contrast of remembered vs. forgotten items, a decrease in neural activity occurred with age in bilateral occipito-temporo-parietal regions. Second, when we contrasted forgotten with remembered items (negative subsequent memory), the primary difference was found between middle and older ages. Third, there was evidence for age equivalence in hippocampal regions, congruent with previous studies. Finally, low-memory-performers showed negative subsequent memory differences by middle age, whereas high memory performers did not demonstrate these differences until older age. Taken together, these findings delineate the importance of a lifespan approach to understanding neurocognitive aging and, in particular, the importance of a middle-age sample in revealing different trajectories.
aging; episodic memory; encoding; fMRI; lifespan; middle-age
Studies on culture-related differences in cognition have shown that Westerners attend more to object-related information, whereas East Asians attend more to contextual information. Neural correlates of these different culture-related visual processing styles have been reported in the ventral-visual and fronto-parietal regions. We conducted an fMRI study of East Asians and Westerners on a visuospatial judgment task that involved relative, contextual judgments, which are typically more challenging for Westerners. Participants judged the relative distances between a dot and a line in visual stimuli during task blocks and alternated finger presses during control blocks. Behaviorally, East Asians responded faster than Westerners, reflecting greater ease of the task for East Asians. In response to the greater task difficulty, Westerners showed greater neural engagement compared to East Asians in frontal, parietal, and occipital areas. Moreover, Westerners also showed greater suppression of the default network—a brain network that is suppressed under condition of high cognitive challenge. This study demonstrates for the first time that cultural differences in visual attention during a cognitive task are manifested both by differences in activation in fronto-parietal regions as well as suppression in default regions.
culture; default network; fMRI; visuo-spatial processing
One of the main obstacles in quantitative interpretation of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) signal is that this signal is influenced by non-neural factors such as vascular properties of the brain, which effectively increases signal variability. One approach to account for non-neural components is to identify and measure these confounding factors and to include them as covariates in data analysis or interpretation. Previously, several research groups have independently identified four potential physiologic modulators of fMRI signals, including baseline venous oxygenation (Yv), cerebrovascular reactivity (CVR), resting state BOLD fluctuation amplitude (RSFA), and baseline cerebral blood flow (CBF). This study sought to directly compare the modulation effects of these indices in the same fMRI session. The physiologic parameters were measured with techniques comparable with those used in the previous studies except for CBF, which was determined globally with a velocity-based phase-contrast MRI (instead of arterial-spin-labeling MRI). Using an event-related, scene-categorization fMRI task, we showed that the fMRI signal amplitude was positively correlated with CVR (P < 0.0001) and RSFA (P = 0.002), while negatively correlated with baseline Yv (P < 0.0001). The fMRI-CBF correlation did not reach significance, although the (negative) sign of the correlation was consistent with the earlier study. Furthermore, among the physiologic modulators themselves, significant correlations were observed between baseline Yv and baseline CBF (P = 0.01), and between CVR and RSFA (P = 0.05), suggesting that some of the modulators may partly be of similar physiologic origins. These observations as well as findings in recent literature suggest that additional measurement of physiologic modulator(s) in an fMRI session may provide a practical approach to control for inter-subject variations and to improve the ability of fMRI in detecting disease or medication related differences.
BOLD fMRI; normalization; venous oxygenation; cerebrovascular reactivity; resting state BOLD fluctuation; cerebral blood flow
Limited functional imaging evidence suggests increased beta-amyloid deposition is associated with alterations in brain function, even in healthy older adults. However, the majority of these findings report on resting-state activity or functional connectivity in adults over age 60. Much less is known about the impact of beta-amyloid on neural activations during cognitive task performance, or the impact of amyloid in young and middle-aged adults. The current study measured beta-amyloid burden from PET imaging using18Florbetapir, in a large continuous age sample of highly-screened, healthy adults (N = 137; aged 30–89 years). The same participants also underwent fMRI scanning, performing a memory encoding task. Using both beta-amyloid burden and age as continuous predictors of encoding activity, we report a dose-response relationship of beta-amyloid load to neural function, beyond the effects of age. Specifically, individuals with greater amyloid burden evidence less neural activation in bilateral dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, a region important for memory encoding, as well as reduced neural modulation in areas associated with default network activity: bilateral superior/medial frontal and lateral temporal cortex. Importantly, this reduction of both activation and suppression as a function of amyloid load was found across the lifespan, even in young- and middle-aged individuals. Moreover, this frontal and temporal amyloid-reduced activation/suppression was associated with poorer processing speed, verbal fluency, and fluid reasoning in a subgroup of individuals with elevated amyloid, suggesting that it is detrimental, rather than compensatory in nature.
Emotional stimuli have been shown to preferentially engage initial attention but their sustained effects on neural processing remain largely unknown. The present study evaluated whether emotional faces engage sustained neural processing by examining the attenuation of neural repetition suppression to repeated emotional faces. Repetition suppression of neural function refers to the general reduction of neural activity when processing a repeated stimulus. Preferential processing of emotional face stimuli, however, should elicit sustained neural processing such that repetition suppression to repeated emotional faces is attenuated relative to faces with no emotional content. We measured the reduction of functional magnetic resonance imaging signals associated with immediate repetition of neutral, angry and happy faces. Whereas neutral faces elicited the greatest suppression in ventral visual cortex, followed by angry faces, repetition suppression was the most attenuated for happy faces. Indeed, happy faces showed almost no repetition suppression in part of the right-inferior occipital and fusiform gyri, which play an important role in face-identity processing. Our findings suggest that happy faces are associated with sustained visual encoding of face identity and thereby assist in the formation of more elaborate representations of the faces, congruent with findings in the behavioral literature.
emotion; faces; repetition suppression; sustained processing; ventral visual cortex
With age, the brain undergoes comprehensive changes in its function and physiology. Cerebral metabolism and blood supply are among the key physiologic processes supporting the daily function of the brain and may play an important role in age-related cognitive decline. Using MRI, it is now possible to make quantitative assessment of these parameters in a noninvasive manner. In the present study, we concurrently measured cerebral metabolic rate of oxygen (CMRO2), cerebral blood flow (CBF), and venous blood oxygenation in a well-characterized healthy adult cohort from 20 to 89 years old (N = 232). Our data showed that CMRO2 increased significantly with age, while CBF decreased with age. This combination of higher demand and diminished supply resulted in a reduction of venous blood oxygenation with age. Regional CBF was also determined, and it was found that the spatial pattern of CBF decline was heterogeneous across the brain with prefrontal cortex, insular cortex, and caudate being the most affected regions. Aside from the resting state parameters, the blood vessels’ ability to dilate, measured by cerebrovascular reactivity to 5% CO2 inhalation, was assessed and was reduced with age, the extent of which was more prominent than that of the resting state CBF.
aging; blood oxygenation; cerebral blood flow; cerebral metabolism; cerebrovascular reactivity; MRI
The visual recognition of letters dissociates from the recognition of numbers at both the behavioral and neural level. In this article, using fMRI, we investigate whether the visual recognition of numbers dissociates from letters, thereby establishing a double dissociation. In Experiment 1, participants viewed strings of consonants and Arabic numerals. We found that letters activated the left midfusiform and inferior temporal gyri more than numbers, replicating previous studies, whereas numbers activated a right lateral occipital area more than letters at the group level. Because the distinction between letters and numbers is culturally defined and relatively arbitrary, this double dissociation provides some of the strongest evidence to date that a neural dissociation can emerge as a result of experience. We then investigated a potential source of the observed neural dissociation. Specifically, we tested the hypothesis that lateralization of visual number recognition depends on lateralization of higher-order numerical processing. In Experiment 2, the same participants performed addition, subtraction, and counting on arrays of nonsymbolic stimuli varying in numerosity, which produced neural activity in and around the intraparietal sulcus, a region associated with higher-order numerical processing. We found that individual differences in the lateralization of number activity in visual cortex could be explained by individual differences in the lateralization of numerical processing in parietal cortex, suggesting a functional relationship between the two regions. Together, these results demonstrate a neural double dissociation between letter and number recognition and suggest that higher-level numerical processing in parietal cortex may influence the neural organization of number processing in visual cortex.
Recent neuroimaging studies using multi-voxel pattern analysis (MVPA) show that distributed patterns of brain activation elicited by different visual stimuli are less distinctive in older adults than in young adults. However, less is known about the effects of aging on the neural representation of movement. The present study used MVPA to compare the distinctiveness of motor representations in young and older adults. We also investigated the contributions of brain structure to age differences in the distinctiveness of motor representations. We found that neural distinctiveness was reduced in older adults throughout the motor control network. Although aging was also associated with decreased gray matter volume in these regions, age differences in motor distinctiveness remained significant after controlling for gray matter volume. Our results suggest that age-related neural dedifferentiation is not restricted to sensory perception and is instead a more general feature of the aging brain.
Behavioral and eye-tracking studies on cultural differences have found that while Westerners have a bias for analytic processing and attend more to face features, East Asians are more holistic and attend more to contextual scenes. In this neuroimaging study, we hypothesized that these culturally different visual processing styles would be associated with cultural differences in the selective activity of the fusiform regions for faces, and the parahippocampal and lingual regions for contextual stimuli. East Asians and Westerners passively viewed face and house stimuli during an functional magnetic resonance imaging experiment. As expected, we observed more selectivity for faces in Westerners in the left fusiform face area (FFA) reflecting a more analytic processing style. Additionally, Westerners showed bilateral activity to faces in the FFA whereas East Asians showed more right lateralization. In contrast, no cultural differences were detected in the parahippocampal place area (PPA), although there was a trend for East Asians to show greater house selectivity than Westerners in the lingual landmark area, consistent with more holistic processing in East Asians. These findings demonstrate group biases in Westerners and East Asians that operate on perceptual processing in the brain and are consistent with previous eye-tracking data that show cultural biases to faces.
ventral-visual; selectivity; culture; faces; houses
In the present study, we manipulated the cognitive effort in an associative encoding task using fMRI. Older and younger adults were presented with two objects that were either semantically related or unrelated, and were required to form a relationship between the items. Both groups self-reported greater difficulty in completing the unrelated associative encoding task providing independent evidence of the associative difficulty manipulation. On both the low and high difficulty tasks, older adults showed a typical pattern of increased right inferior frontal recruitment relative to younger adults. Of particular interest was the finding that both groups showed increased activation as task difficulty increased in the left inferior frontal and left hippocampus. Overall, the results suggest that the aging brain is characterized by greater prefrontal processing, but that as cognitive demand increases, the networks used by older and younger adults are the largely the same.
Aging; Relational Memory; Prefrontal Cortex; Hippocampus; Encoding
We investigated whether individual differences in neural specificity—the distinctiveness of different neural representations—could explain individual differences in cognitive performance in older adults. Neural specificity was estimated based on how accurately multivariate pattern analysis identified neural activation patterns associated with specific experimental conditions. Neural specificity calculated from a same-different task on two categories of visual stimuli (faces and houses) significantly predicted performance on a range of fluid processing behavioral tasks (dot-comparison, digit-symbol, Trails-A, Trails-B, verbal-fluency) in older adults, whereas it did not correlate with a measure of crystallized knowledge (Shipley-vocabulary). In addition, the neural specificity measure accounted for thirty percent of the variance in a composite measure of fluid processing ability. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that loss of neural specificity, or dedifferentiation, contributes to reduced fluid processing ability in old age.
To provide a between site comparison of functional MRI (fMRI) signal reproducibility in two laboratories equipped with identical imaging hardware and software. Many studies have looked at within subject reliability and more recent efforts have begun to calibrate responses across sites, magnetic field strengths, and software. By comparing identical imaging hardware and software, we provide a benchmark for future multi-site comparisons.
Materials and Methods
We evaluated system compatibility based on noise and stability properties of phantom scans and contrast estimates from repeated runs of a blocked motor and visual task on the same four subjects at both sites.
ANOVA and ROI analysis confirmed that site did not play a significant role in explaining variance in our large fMRI data set. Effect size analysis shows that between-subject differences account for nearly ten times more variance than site effects.
We show that quantitative comparisons of contrast estimates derived from cognitive experiments can reliably be compared across two sites. This allows us to establish an effective platform for comparing group differences between two sites using fMRI when group effects are potentially confounded with site, as in the study of neurocultural differences between countries or multi-center clinical trials.
functional MRI; reproducibility; intersite comparisons; effect size; cultural neuroscience
The default network is a system of brain areas that are engaged when the mind is not involved in goal-directed activity. Most previous studies of age-related changes in default mode processing have used verbal tasks. We studied non-verbal spatial tasks that vary in difficulty. We presented old and young participants with two spatial judgment tasks: an easy categorical judgment and a more demanding coordinate judgment. We report that (a) Older adults show markedly less default network modulation than young on the demanding spatial task, but there is age equivalence on the easy task; (b) This Age × Task interaction is restricted to the default network: Brain areas that are deactivated by the tasks, but that are outside the default network, show no interaction; (c) Young adults exhibit significantly stronger functional connectivity among posterior regions of the default network compared with older adults, whereas older adults exhibit stronger connectivity between medial prefrontal cortex and other sites; and (d) The relationship of default activity to reaction time performance on the spatial tasks is mediated by age: in old adults, those who deactivate the default network most also perform best, whereas the opposite is true in younger adults. These results extend the findings of age-related changes in default mode processing and connectivity to visuo-spatial tasks and demonstrate that the results are specific to the default network.
default mode; deactivation; aging brain; spatial judgment; parietal cortex; connectivity; fMRI
Previous behavioral research suggests that although elderly adults' memory benefits from supportive context, misleading or irrelevant contexts produce greater interference. In the present study, we use event-related fMRI to investigate age differences when processing contextual information to make recognition judgments. Twenty-one young and 20 elderly incidentally encoded pictures of objects presented in meaningful contexts, and completed a memory test for the objects presented in identical or novel contexts. Elderly committed more false alarms than young when novel objects were presented in familiar, but task-irrelevant, contexts. Elderly showed reduced engagement of bilateral dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and anterior cingulate relative to young, reflecting disruption of a cognitive control network for processing context with age. Disruption occurred for both high and low performing elderly, suggesting that cognitive control deficits are pervasive with age. Despite showing disruption of the cognitive control network, high performing elderly recruited additional middle and medial frontal regions that were not recruited by either low-performing elderly or young adults. This suggests that high-performing elderly may compensate for disruption of the cognitive control network by recruiting additional frontal resources to overcome cognitive control deficits that affect recognition memory.
Aging; Cognitive control; Context; Long-term Memory; Prefrontal Cortex