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Cognitive consequences of age-related increase in brain activity

Finding that increased brain activity reflects reduced efficiency contradicts leading theory in neuroscience of aging

Society for Neuroscience

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IMAGE: Increased frontal brain activity in healthy older adults reflects reduced efficiency rather than a way to maintain cognitive function, finds a study of two human samples published in JNeurosci. The... view more 

Credit: Morcom et al., JNeurosci (2018)

Increased frontal brain activity in healthy older adults reflects reduced efficiency rather than a way to maintain cognitive function, finds a study of two human samples published in JNeurosci. The findings contradict a leading theory in the neuroscience of aging.

The Posterior-to-Anterior Shift in Aging (PASA) theory suggests the distribution of neural activity shifts from the back to the front of the brain over the lifespan to compensate for typical age-related decline in cognitive functions such as memory. Alexa Morcom and Richard Henson tested predictions of this theory by analyzing functional magnetic resonance imaging data obtained from adults between 19 and 88 years of age. Their approach allowed the researchers to determine that increased prefrontal cortex activity does not carry any additional information related to participants' performance on two different memory tasks. In contrast to the PASA theory, these results suggest that increased prefrontal cortex in aging is less specific or less efficient and may underlie age-related cognitive decline. The study instead supports the idea that the extent to which an older brain operates like a younger one is a key determinant of cognitive function in old age.

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Article: Increased prefrontal activity with aging reflects nonspecific neural responses rather than compensation

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1523/JNEUROSCI.1701-17.2018

Corresponding author: Alexa Morcom (University of Edinburgh, UK), alexa.morcom@ed.ac.uk

About JNeurosci

JNeurosci, the Society for Neuroscience's first journal, was launched in 1981 as a means to communicate the findings of the highest quality neuroscience research to the growing field. Today, the journal remains committed to publishing cutting-edge neuroscience that will have an immediate and lasting scientific impact, while responding to authors' changing publishing needs, representing breadth of the field and diversity in authorship.

About The Society for Neuroscience

The Society for Neuroscience is the world's largest organization of scientists and physicians devoted to understanding the brain and nervous system. The nonprofit organization, founded in 1969, now has nearly 37,000 members in more than 90 countries and over 130 chapters worldwide.

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