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J Neurosci. 2012 Apr 11;32(15):5333-7. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.5756-11.2012.

Frontostriatal white matter integrity mediates adult age differences in probabilistic reward learning.

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Department of Psychology, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee 37240-7817, USA.


Frontostriatal circuits have been implicated in reward learning, and emerging findings suggest that frontal white matter structural integrity and probabilistic reward learning are reduced in older age. This cross-sectional study examined whether age differences in frontostriatal white matter integrity could account for age differences in reward learning in a community life span sample of human adults. By combining diffusion tensor imaging with a probabilistic reward learning task, we found that older age was associated with decreased reward learning and decreased white matter integrity in specific pathways running from the thalamus to the medial prefrontal cortex and from the medial prefrontal cortex to the ventral striatum. Further, white matter integrity in these thalamocorticostriatal paths could statistically account for age differences in learning. These findings suggest that the integrity of frontostriatal white matter pathways critically supports reward learning. The findings also raise the possibility that interventions that bolster frontostriatal integrity might improve reward learning and decision making.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
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