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