Robust resilience of the frontotemporal syntax system to aging


© 2016 the authors.Brain function is thought to become less specialized with age. However, this view is largely based on findings of increased activation during tasks that fail to separate task-related processes (e.g., attention, decision making) from the cognitive process under examination. Here we take a systems-level approach to separate processes specific to language comprehension from those related to general task demands and to examine age differences in functional connectivity both within and between those systems. A large population-based sample (Nβ111; 22– 87 years) from the Cambridge Centre for Aging and Neuroscience (Cam-CAN) was scanned using functional MRI during two versions of an experiment: a natural listening version in which participants simply listened to spoken sentences and an explicit task version in which they rated the acceptability of the same sentences. Independent components analysis across the combined data from both versions showed that although task-free language comprehension activates only the auditory and frontotemporal (FTN) syntax networks, performing a simple task with the same sentences recruits several additional networks. Remarkably, functionality of the critical FTN is maintained across age groups, showing no difference in within-network connectivity or responsivity to syntactic processing demands despite gray matter loss and reduced connectivity to task-related networks.Wefound no evidence for reduced specialization or compensation with age. Overt task performance was maintained across the lifespan and performance in older, but not younger, adults related to crystallized knowledge, suggesting that decreased between-network connectivity may be compensated for by older adults’ richer knowledge base.






Published Version (Please cite this version)


Publication Info

Campbell, Karen L, Dávid Samu, Simon W Davis, Linda Geerligs, Abdur Mustafa, Lorraine K Tyler and undefined for Cambridge Centre for Aging and Neuroscience (2016). Robust resilience of the frontotemporal syntax system to aging. Journal of Neuroscience, 36(19). pp. 5214–5227. 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4561-15.2016 Retrieved from

This is constructed from limited available data and may be imprecise. To cite this article, please review & use the official citation provided by the journal.



Simon Wilton Davis

Associate Professor in Neurology

My research centers around the use of structural and functional imaging measures to study the shifts in network architecture in the aging brain. I am specifically interested in changes in how changes in structural and functional connectivity associated with aging impact the semantic retrieval of word or fact knowledge. Currently this involves asking why older adults have particular difficulty in certain kinds of semantic retrieval, despite the fact that vocabularies and knowledge stores typically improve with age.

A second line of research involves asking questions about how this semantic system is organized in young adults, understanding which helps form a basis for asking questions about older adults. To what degree are these semantic retrieval processes lateralized? What cognitive factors affect this laterality? How are brain structures like the corpus callosum involved in mediating distributed activation patterns associated with semantic retrieval? 

Unless otherwise indicated, scholarly articles published by Duke faculty members are made available here with a CC-BY-NC (Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial) license, as enabled by the Duke Open Access Policy. If you wish to use the materials in ways not already permitted under CC-BY-NC, please consult the copyright owner. Other materials are made available here through the author’s grant of a non-exclusive license to make their work openly accessible.