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Neuroimage. 2002 Feb;15(2):302-17.

Age-related changes in working memory during sentence comprehension: an fMRI study.

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  • 1Department of Neurology, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19104-4283, USA.


Sentence comprehension declines with age, but the neural basis for this change is unclear. We monitored regional brain activity in 13 younger subjects and 11 healthy seniors matched for sentence comprehension accuracy while they answered a simple probe about written sentences. The sentences varied in their grammatical features (subject-relative vs object-relative subordinate clause) and their verbal working memory (WM) demands (short vs long antecedent noun-gap linkage). We found that young and senior subjects both recruit a core written sentence processing network, including left posterolateral temporal and bilateral occipital cortex for all sentences, and ventral portions of left inferior frontal cortex for object-relative sentences with a long noun-gap linkage. Differences in activation patterns for seniors compared to younger subjects were due largely to changes in brain regions associated with a verbal WM network. While seniors had less left parietal recruitment than younger subjects, left premotor cortex, and dorsal portions of left inferior frontal cortex showed greater activation in seniors compared to younger subjects. Younger subjects recruited right posterolateral temporal cortex for sentences with a long noun-gap linkage. Seniors additionally recruited right parietal cortex for this sentence-specific form of WM. Our findings are consistent with the hypothesis that the neural basis for sentence comprehension includes dissociable but interactive large-scale neural networks supporting core written sentence processes and related cognitive resources involved in WM. Seniors with good comprehension appear to up-regulate portions of the neural substrate for WM during sentence processing to achieve comprehension accuracy that equals young subjects.

[PubMed - indexed for MEDLINE]
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