Neural markers of category-based selective working memory in aging
Mok RM., O'Donoghue MC., Myers NE., Drazich EHS., Nobre AC.
<jats:p>Working memory (WM) is essential for normal cognitive function, but shows marked decline in aging. Studies have shown that the ability to attend selectively to relevant information amongst competing distractors is related to WM capacity. The extent to which WM deficits in aging are related to impairments in selective attention is unclear. To investigate the neural mechanisms supporting selective attention in WM in aging, we tested a large group of older adults using functional magnetic resonance imaging whilst they performed a category-based (faces/houses) selective-WM task. Older adults were able to use attention to encode targets and suppress distractors to reach high levels of task performance. A subsequent, surprise recognition-memory task showed strong consequences of selective attention. Attended items in the relevant category were recognised significantly better than items in the ignored category. Neural measures also showed reliable markers of selective attention during WM. Purported control regions including the dorsolateral and inferior prefrontal and anterior cingulate cortex were reliably recruited for attention to both categories. Activation levels in category-sensitive visual cortex showed reliable modulation according to attentional demands, and positively correlated with subsequent memory measures of attention and WM span. Psychophysiological interaction analyses showed that activity in category-sensitive areas were coupled with non-sensory cortex known to be involved in cognitive control and memory processing, including regions in the PFC and hippocampus. In summary, we found that brain mechanisms of attention for selective WM are relatively preserved in aging, and individual differences in these abilities corresponded to the degree of attention-related modulation in the brain.</jats:p>