Relation of cognitive reserve and task performance to expression of regional covariance networks in an event-related fMRI study of nonverbal memory.

Cognitive Neuroscience Division of the Taub Institute for Research in Alzheimer's Disease and the Aging Brain, College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University, New York, NY 10032, USA.
NeuroImage (Impact Factor: 6.25). 12/2003; 20(3):1723-33. DOI: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2003.07.032
Source: PubMed

ABSTRACT Cognitive reserve (CR) has been established as a mechanism that can explain individual differences in the clinical manifestation of neural changes associated with aging or neurodegenerative diseases. CR may represent individual differences in how tasks are processed (i.e., differences in the component processes), or in the underlying neural circuitry (of the component processes). CR may be a function of innate differences or differential life experiences. To investigate to what extent CR can account for individual differences in brain activation and task performance, we used fMRI to image healthy young individuals while performing a nonverbal memory task. We used IQ estimates as a proxy for CR. During both study and test phase of the task, we identified regional covariance patterns whose change in subject expression across two task conditions correlated with performance and CR. Common brain regions in both activation patterns were suggestive of a brain network previously found to underlie overt and covert shifts of spatial attention. After partialing out the influence of task performance variables, this network still showed an association with the CR, i.e., there were reserve-related physiological differences that presumably would persist were there no subject differences in task performance. This suggests that this network may represent a neural correlate of CR.

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    ABSTRACT: Advancing age affects both cognitive performance and functional brain activity and interpretation of these effects has led to a variety of conceptual research models without always explicitly linking the two effects. However, to best understand the multifaceted effects of advancing age, age differences in functional brain activity need to be explicitly tied to the cognitive task performance. This work hypothesized that age-related differences in task performance are partially explained by age-related differences in functional brain activity and formally tested these causal relationships. Functional MRI data was from groups of young and old adults engaged in an executive task-switching experiment. Analyses were voxel-wise testing of moderated-mediation and simple mediation statistical path models to determine whether age group, brain activity and their interaction explained task performance in regions demonstrating an effect of age group. Results identified brain regions whose age-related differences in functional brain activity significantly explained age-related differences in task performance. In all identified locations, significant moderated-mediation relationships resulted from increasing brain activity predicting worse (slower) task performance in older but not younger adults. Findings suggest that advancing age links task performance to the level of brain activity. The overall message of this work is that in order to understand the role of functional brain activity on cognitive performance, analysis methods should respect theoretical relationships. Namely, that age affects brain activity and brain activity is related to task performance.
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