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Cereb Cortex. 2012 May;22(5):1038-51. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhr172. Epub 2011 Jul 17.

Failure to modulate attentional control in advanced aging linked to white matter pathology.

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Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging, Department of Radiology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Charlestown, MA 02129, USA.


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.

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