Neuroimaging data emphasize that older adults often show greater extent of brain activation than younger adults for similar objective levels of difficulty. A possible interpretation of this finding is that older adults need to recruit neuronal resources at lower loads than younger adults, leaving no resources for higher loads, and thus leading to performance decrements [Compensation-Related Utilization of Neural Circuits Hypothesis; e.g., Reuter-Lorenz, P. A., & Cappell, K. A. Neurocognitive aging and the compensation hypothesis. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 17, 177–182, 2008]. The Compensation-Related Utilization of Neural Circuits Hypothesis leads to the prediction that activation differences between younger and older adults should disappear when task difficulty is made subjectively comparable. In a Sternberg memory search task, this can be achieved by assessing brain activity as a function of load relative to the individual’s memory span, which declines with age. Specifically, we hypothesized a nonlinear relationship between load and both performance and brain activity and predicted that asymptotes in the brain activation function should correlate with performance asymptotes (corresponding to working memory span). The results suggest that age differences in brain activation can be largely attributed to individual variations in working memory span. Interestingly, the brain activation data show a sigmoid relationship with load. Results are discussed in terms of Cowan’s [Cowan, N. The magical number 4 in short-term memory: A reconsideration of mental storage capacity. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 24, 87–114, 2001] model of working memory and theories of impaired inhibitory processes in aging.
FENSI was previously introduced as a novel functional imaging method for measuring changes in localized blood flow in response to a stimulus. However, FENSI was limited to a qualitative functional MRI tool, due to magnetization transfer (MT) effects and different tagging plane profiles between tag and control images. In this work, a revised FENSI acquisition is proposed to enable quantitative imaging, which is capable of providing absolute localized blood flow maps free from MT and slice profile errors. The feasibility and accuracy of measuring microvascular (arteriole, capillary, venule) blood flow by using quantitative FENSI was validated by our phantom studies. Additionally, localized cerebral blood flow, 366±45 μL/min/cm2 in gray matter and 153±23 μL/min/cm2 in white matter, was measured in healthy subjects during resting state, while a flow change of 73±13% was detected during a visual task.
FENSI; perfusion; localized blood flow; blood flux; magnetization transfer
Individual differences in inhibition-related functions have been implicated as risk factors for a broad range of psychopathology, including anxiety and depression. Delineating neural mechanisms of distinct inhibition-related functions may clarify their role in the development and maintenance of psychopathology. The present study tested the hypothesis that activity in common and distinct brain regions would be associated with an ecologically sensitive, self-report measure of inhibition and a laboratory performance measure of prepotent response inhibition. Results indicated that sub-regions of DLPFC distinguished measures of inhibition, whereas left inferior frontal gyrus and bilateral inferior parietal cortex were associated with both types of inhibition. Additionally, co-occurring anxiety and depression modulated neural activity in select brain regions associated with response inhibition. Results imply that specific combinations of anxiety and depression dimensions are associated with failure to implement top-down attentional control as reflected in inefficient recruitment of posterior DLPFC and increased activation in regions associated with threat (MTG) and worry (BA10). Present findings elucidate possible neural mechanisms of interference that could help explain executive control deficits in psychopathology.
inhibition; anxiety; depression; DLPFC; attentional control
Transfer insensitive labeling technique (TILT) was previously applied to acquire multi-slice cerebral blood flow (CBF) maps as a pulsed arterial spin labeling (PASL) method. The magnetization transfer (MT) effect with TILT is well controlled by using concatenated radiofrequency pulses. However, use of TILT has been limited by several challenges, including slice profile errors, sensitivity to arterial transit time and intrinsic low signal-to-noise ratio (SNR). In this work, we propose to address these challenges by making the original TILT method into a novel pseudo-continuous ASL approach, named pseudo-continuous transfer insensitive labeling technique (pTILT). pTILT improves perfusion acquisitions by 1) realizing pseudo-continuous tagging with non-adiabatic pulses, 2) being sensitive to slow flows in addition to fast flows, and 3) providing flexible labeling geometries. Perfusion maps during both resting state and functional tasks are successfully demonstrated in healthy volunteers with pTILT. A comparison with typical SNR values from other perfusion techniques shows that although pTILT provides less SNR than inversion-based pseudo-continuous ASL techniques, the modified sequence provides similar SNR to inversion-based PASL techniques.
arterial spin labeling; pseudo-continuous ASL; transfer insensitive labeling technique; pseudo-continuous TILT
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
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
There is an emergent literature suggesting that East Asians and Westerners differ in cognitive processes because of cultural biases to process information holistically (East Asians) or analytically (Westerners). To evaluate the possibility that such differences are accompanied by differences in brain structure, we conducted a large comparative study on cognitively matched young and old adults from two cultural/ethnic groups—Chinese Singaporeans and non-Asian Americans—that involved a total of 140 persons. Young predominantly White American adults were found to have higher cortical thickness in frontal, parietal, and medial-temporal polymodal association areas in both hemispheres. These findings were replicated using voxel-based morphometry applied to the same data set. Differences in cortical thickness observed between young volunteers were not significant in older subjects as a whole. However, group differences were evident when high-performing old were compared. Although the observed differences in gray matter may be rooted in strategic differences in cognition arising from ethnic/cultural differences, alternative explanations involving genetic heritage and environmental factors are also considered.
Motivation and executive function are both necessary for the completion of goal-directed behavior. Research investigating the manner in which these processes interact is beginning to emerge and has implicated middle frontal gyrus (MFG) as a site of interaction for relevant neural mechanisms. However, this research has focused on state motivation, and it has not examined functional lateralization. The present study examined the impact of trait levels of approach and avoidance motivation on neural processes associated with executive function. Functional magnetic resonance imaging was conducted while participants performed a color-word Stroop task. Analyses identified brain regions in which trait approach and avoidance motivation (measured by questionnaires) moderated activation associated with executive control. Approach was hypothesized to be associated with left-lateralized MFG activation, whereas avoidance was hypothesized to be associated with right-lateralized MFG activation. Results supported both hypotheses. Present findings implicate areas of middle frontal gyrus in top-down control to guide behavior in accordance with motivational goals.
Approach; Avoidance; Motivation; Executive Function; Laterality; 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
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
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
Aging is accompanied by a general deterioration of fluid cognitive processes and a reduction in resting cerebral blood flow (CBF). While the two phenomena have been observed independently, it is uncertain whether individual differences in cerebral blood flow are reliably associated with cognitive functioning in older adults. Furthermore, previous studies have concentrated primarily on gross measures of cognition and global gray matter CBF, leaving open the possibility that perfusion of specific brain regions may relate differentially to distinct cognitive domains. The present study sought to provide a more focused treatment of CBF and cognitive function in the context of aging by investigating the relationships among aging, spatial memory and resting hippocampal blood flow, both between and within younger and older adult groups. Blood flow was quantified using a novel Flow-Enhanced Signal Intensity (FENSI) technique which provides a localized, functionally-relevant measure of volumetric flow across a given unit area. As expected, we found that aging was associated with poorer spatial memory and reduced resting CBF. Moreover, hippocampal blood flow was positively correlated with spatial memory performance in the older adult group, suggesting that increased blood flow to the hippocampus is associated with superior memory performance in older adults. These results demonstrate a region-specific CBF—cognition relationship and thereby offer new insight into the complex connection between the aging brain and behavior.
hippocampus; cerebral blood flow; brain perfusion; cognition; memory; aging
Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies using the blood oxygenation level dependent (BOLD) response have become a widely used tool for noninvasive assessment of functional organization of the brain. Yet the technique is still fairly new, with many significant challenges remaining. Capitalizing on additional contrast mechanisms available with MRI, several other functional imaging techniques have been developed that potentially provide improved quantification or specificity of neuronal function. This article reviews the challenges and the current state of the art in MRI-based methods of imaging cognitive function.
Functional MRI; Neuroimaging; Cerebral blood flow; Cerebral blood volume; BOLD; Cognitive neuroscience
Models of selective attention predict that focused attention to spatially contiguous stimuli may result in enhanced activity in areas of cortex specialized for processing task-relevant and task-irrelevant information. We examined this hypothesis by localizing color-sensitive areas (CSA) and word and letter sensitive areas of cortex and then examining modulation of these regions during performance of a modified version of the Stroop task in which target and distractors are spatially coincident. We report that only the incongruent condition with the highest cognitive demand showed increased activity in CSA relative to other conditions, indicating an attentional enhancement in target processing areas. We also found an enhancement of activity in one region sensitive to word/letter processing during the most cognitively demanding incongruent condition indicating greater processing of the distractor dimension. Correlations with performance revealed that top-down modulation during the task was critical for effective filtering of irrelevant information in conflict conditions. These results support predictions made by models of selective attention and suggest an important mechanism of top-down attentional control in spatially contiguous stimuli.
Attentional control; Top-down modulation; Stroop task; Color-sensitive; Visual word form area
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
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
Research has indicated that regions of left and right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) are involved in integrating the motivational and executive function processes related to, respectively, approach and avoidance goals. Given that sensitivity to pleasant and unpleasant stimuli is an important feature of conceptualizations of approach and avoidance motivation, it is possible that these regions of DLPFC are preferentially activated by valenced stimuli. The present study tested this hypothesis by using a task in which goal pursuit was threatened by distraction from valenced stimuli while functional magnetic resonance imaging data were collected. The analyses examined whether the impact of trait approach and avoidance motivation on the neural processes associated with executive function differed depending on the valence or arousal level of the distractor stimuli. The present findings support the hypothesis that the regions of DLPFC under investigation are involved in integrating motivational and executive function processes, and they also indicate the involvement of a number of other brain areas in maintaining goal pursuit. However, DLPFC did not display differential sensitivity to valence.
Approach and avoidance motivation; Dorsolateral prefrontal cortex; Emotion; Goal pursuit; Cognitive control; Amygdala; Basal ganglia
Performance in most complex cognitive and psychomotor tasks improves with training, yet the extent of improvement varies among individuals. Is it possible to forecast the benefit that a person might reap from training? Several behavioral measures have been used to predict individual differences in task improvement, but their predictive power is limited. Here we show that individual differences in patterns of time-averaged T2*-weighted MRI images in the dorsal striatum recorded at the initial stage of training predict subsequent learning success in a complex video game with high accuracy. These predictions explained more than half of the variance in learning success among individuals, suggesting that individual differences in neuroanatomy or persistent physiology predict whether and to what extent people will benefit from training in a complex task. Surprisingly, predictions from white matter were highly accurate, while voxels in the gray matter of the dorsal striatum did not contain any information about future training success. Prediction accuracy was higher in the anterior than the posterior half of the dorsal striatum. The link between trainability and the time-averaged T2*-weighted signal in the dorsal striatum reaffirms the role of this part of the basal ganglia in learning and executive functions, such as task-switching and task coordination processes. The ability to predict who will benefit from training by using neuroimaging data collected in the early training phase may have far-reaching implications for the assessment of candidates for specific training programs as well as the study of populations that show deficiencies in learning new skills.