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J Int Neuropsychol Soc. 2014 Oct;20(9):945-50. doi: 10.1017/S1355617714000824. Epub 2014 Sep 29.

Brain functional correlates of working memory: reduced load-modulated activation and deactivation in aging without hyperactivation or functional reorganization.

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1Sierra Pacific Mental Illness Research,Education,and Clinical Center,San Francisco VA Medical Center and the Department of Psychiatry,University of California San Francisco,San Francisco,California.
3Psychology Service,VA San Diego Health Care System,San Diego,California.
4Department of Psychiatry,University of California San Diego,La Jolla,California.


We aimed to identify brain functional correlates of working memory performance in aging, in hopes of facilitating understanding of mechanisms that promote better versus worse working memory in late-life. Among 64 healthy adults, aged 23 to 78, we examined the relationship between age, working memory performance, and brain functional response during task performance. We focused on the association between working memory load-modulated functional response and individual differences in performance and whether these function-performance relationships differed with age. As expected, older age was associated with poorer working memory performance. Older age was also associated with reduced load-modulated activation including in bilateral prefrontal and parietal regions and left caudate as well as reduced deactivation including in the medial prefrontal cortex. Contrary to findings of hyperactivation in aging, we found no evidence of increased activation with older age. Positive associations identified between brain response and performance did not differ with age. Our findings suggest that the neural mechanisms underlying better versus worse working memory performance are age-invariant across adulthood, and argue against a pattern of functional reorganization in aging. Results are discussed within the broader literature, in which significant heterogeneity in findings between studies has been common.

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