Age-related differences in the neural bases of phonological and semantic processes.
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Changes in language functions during normal aging are greater for phonological compared with semantic processes. To investigate the behavioral and neural basis for these age-related differences, we used fMRI to examine younger and older adults who made semantic and phonological decisions about pictures. The behavioral performance of older adults was less accurate and less efficient than younger adults' in the phonological task but did not differ in the semantic task. In the fMRI analyses, the semantic task activated left-hemisphere language regions, and the phonological task activated bilateral cingulate and ventral precuneus. Age-related effects were widespread throughout the brain and most often expressed as greater activation for older adults. Activation was greater for younger compared with older adults in ventral brain regions involved in visual and object processing. Although there was not a significant Age × Condition interaction in the whole-brain fMRI results, correlations examining the relationship between behavior and fMRI activation were stronger for younger compared with older adults. Our results suggest that the relationship between behavior and neural activation declines with age, and this may underlie some of the observed declines in performance.
Published Version (Please cite this version)
Diaz, Michele T, Micah A Johnson, Deborah M Burke and David J Madden (2014). Age-related differences in the neural bases of phonological and semantic processes. Journal of cognitive neuroscience, 26(12). pp. 2798–2811. 10.1162/jocn_a_00665 Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10161/22537.
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My research focuses primarily on the cognitive neuroscience of aging: the investigation of age-related changes in perception, attention, and memory, using both behavioral measures and neuroimaging techniques, including positron emission tomography (PET), functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI).
The behavioral measures have focused on reaction time, with the goal of distinguishing age-related changes in specific cognitive abilities from more general effects arising from a slowing in elementary perceptual processes. The cognitive abilities of interest include selective attention as measured in visual search tasks, semantic and episodic memory retrieval, and executive control processes.
The behavioral measures are necessary to define the cognitive abilities of interest, and the neuroimaging techniques help define the functional neuroanatomy of those abilities. The PET and fMRI measures provide information regarding neural activity during cognitive performance. DTI is a recently developed technique that images the structural integrity of white matter. The white matter tracts of the brain provide critical pathways linking the gray matter regions, and thus this work will complement the studies using PET and fMRI that focus on gray matter activation.
A current focus of the research program is the functional connectivity among regions, not only during cognitive task performance but also during rest. These latter measures, referred to as intrinsic functional connectivity, are beginning to show promise as an index of overall brain functional efficiency, which can be assessed without the implementation of a specific cognitive task. From DTI, information can be obtained regarding how anatomical connectivity constrains intrinsic functional connectivity. It will be important to determine the relative influence of white matter pathway integrity, intrinsic functional connectivity, and task-related functional connectivity, as mediators of age-related differences in behavioral measures of cognitive performance.
Ultimately, the research program can help link age-related changes in cognitive performance to changes in the structure and function of specific neural systems. The results also have implications for clinical translation, in terms of the identification of neural biomarkers for the diagnosis of neural pathology and targeting rehabilitation procedures.
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