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Dement Geriatr Cogn Disord. 2009;27(1):1-10. doi: 10.1159/000182420. Epub 2008 Dec 16.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging of compensatory neural recruitment in aging and risk for Alzheimer's disease: review and recommendations.

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Department of Psychology, Loyola University Chicago, Chicago, Ill., USA.


There has been a recent proliferation of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies that interpret between-group or within-group differences in brain response patterns as evidence for compensatory neural recruitment. However, it is currently a challenge to determine whether these observed differences are truly attributable to compensatory neural recruitment or whether they are indicative of some other cognitive or physiological process. Therefore, the need for a standardized set of criteria for interpreting whether differences in brain response patterns are compensatory in nature is great. Focusing on studies of aging and potentially prodromal Alzheimer's disease conditions (genetic risk, mild cognitive impairment), we critically review the functional neuroimaging literature purporting evidence for compensatory neural recruitment. Finally, we end with a comprehensive model set of criteria for ascertaining the degree to which a 'compensatory' interpretation may be supported. This proposed model addresses significant brain region, activation pattern, and behavioral performance considerations, and is therefore termed the Region-Activation-Performance model (RAP model).

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