Send to

Choose Destination
Neuroimage. 2019 Aug 1;196:16-31. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2019.03.074. Epub 2019 Apr 4.

Meta-analyses of the n-back working memory task: fMRI evidence of age-related changes in prefrontal cortex involvement across the adult lifespan.

Author information

Centre for Cognition and Decision Making, National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russian Federation; Department of Psychology, National University of Singapore, Singapore.
Department of Psychology, York University, Toronto, Canada.
Department of Psychology, York University, Toronto, Canada; NeuropsyLab, Department of Psychology, National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russian Federation. Electronic address:


Working memory, a fundamental cognitive function that is highly dependent on the integrity of the prefrontal cortex, is known to show age-related decline across the typical healthy adult lifespan. Moreover, we know from work in neurophysiology that the prefrontal cortex is disproportionately susceptibly to the pathological effects of aging. The n-back task is arguably the most ubiquitous cognitive task for investigating working memory performance. Many functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies examine brain regions engaged during performance of the n-back task in adults. The current meta-analyses are the first to examine concordance and age-related changes across the healthy adult lifespan in brain areas engaged when performing the n-back task. We compile data from eligible fMRI articles that report stereotaxic coordinates of brain activity from healthy adults in three age-groups: young (23.57 ± 5.63 years), middle-aged (38.13 ± 5.63 years) and older (66.86 ± 5.70 years) adults. Findings show that the three groups share concordance in the engagement of parietal and cingulate cortices, which have been consistently identified as core areas involved in working memory; as well as the insula, claustrum, and cerebellum, which have not been highlighted as areas involved in working memory. Critically, prefrontal cortex engagement is concordant for young, to a lesser degree for middle-aged adults, and absent in older adults, suggesting a gradual linear decline in concordance of prefrontal cortex engagement. Our results provide important new knowledge for improving methodology and theories of cognition across the lifespan.

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Elsevier Science
Loading ...
Support Center