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Neuroimage. 2013 Jan 15;65:152-66. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2012.09.057. Epub 2012 Oct 1.

Visual dominance and multisensory integration changes with age.

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Translational Neuromodeling Unit, Institute for Biomedical Engineering, University of Zürich/ETH Zürich, Switzerland.


Objects comprise of visual and auditory signatures that arrive through distinct sensory channels. Exposure to cross-modal events sets up expectations about what a given object most likely "sounds" like, and vice versa, thereby facilitating detection and recognition. Whereas episodic and working memory functions decline with age, the extent to which multisensory integration processes change with age remains an open question. In the present study, we examined whether multisensory integration processes play a compensatory role in normal aging. Magnetoencephalography recordings of semantically-related cross-modal and unimodal auditory and visual stimuli captured the spatiotemporal dynamics of multisensory responses in young and older adults. Whereas sensory-specific regions showed increased activity in response to cross-modal compared to unimodal stimuli 100 ms after stimulus onset in both age groups, posterior parietal and medial prefrontal regions responded preferentially to cross-modal stimuli between 150 and 300 ms in the older group only. Additionally, faster detection of cross-modal stimuli correlated with increased activity in inferior parietal and medial prefrontal regions 100 ms after stimulus onset in older compared to younger adults. Age-related differences in visual dominance were also observed with older adults exhibiting significantly larger multisensory facilitation effects relative to the auditory modality. Using structural equation modeling, we showed that age-related increases in parietal and medial prefrontal source activity predicted faster detection of cross-modal stimuli. Furthermore, the relationship between performance and source activity was mediated by age-related reductions in gray matter volume in those regions. Thus, we propose that multisensory integration processes change with age such that posterior parietal and medial prefrontal activity underlies the integrated response in older adults.

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