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PLoS One. 2018 Jun 1;13(6):e0198312. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0198312. eCollection 2018.

Using event-related fMRI to examine sustained attention processes and effects of APOE ε4 in young adults.

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School of Psychology, University of Sussex, Brighton, East Sussex, United Kingdom.
School of Psychology, University of Surrey, Guildford, Surrey, United Kingdom.
Brighton and Sussex Medical School (BSMS), Brighton, East Sussex, United Kingdom.


In this study we investigated effects of the APOE ε4 allele (which confers an enhanced risk of poorer cognitive ageing, and Alzheimer's Disease) on sustained attention (vigilance) performance in young adults using the Rapid Visual Information Processing (RVIP) task and event-related fMRI. Previous fMRI work with this task has used block designs: this study is the first to image an extended (6-minute) RVIP task. Participants were 26 carriers of the APOE ε4 allele, and 26 non carriers (aged 18-28). Pupil diameter was measured throughout, as an index of cognitive effort. We compared activity to RVIP task hits to hits on a control task (with similar visual parameters and response requirements but no working memory load): this contrast showed activity in medial frontal, inferior and superior parietal, temporal and visual cortices, consistent with previous work, demonstrating that meaningful neural data can be extracted from the RVIP task over an extended interval and using an event-related design. Behavioural performance was not affected by genotype; however, a genotype by condition (experimental task/control task) interaction on pupil diameter suggested that ε4 carriers deployed more effort to the experimental compared to the control task. fMRI results showed a condition by genotype interaction in the right hippocampal formation: only ε4 carriers showed downregulation of this region to experimental task hits versus control task hits. Experimental task beta values were correlated against hit rate: parietal correlations were seen in ε4 carriers only, frontal correlations in non-carriers only. The data indicate that, in the absence of behavioural differences, young adult ε4 carriers already show a different linkage between functional brain activity and behaviour, as well as aberrant hippocampal recruitment patterns. This may have relevance for genotype differences in cognitive ageing trajectories.

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