Functional changes in the activity of brain regions underlying emotion processing in the elderly.
Aging is associated with a decline in both cognitive and motor abilities that reflects deterioration of underlying brain circuitry. While age-related alterations have also been described in brain regions underlying emotional behavior (e.g., the amygdala), the functional consequence of such changes is less clear. To this end, we used blood oxygenation-level dependent (BOLD) functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to explore age-related changes in brain regions underlying emotion processing. Twelve young (age <30 years) and 14 elderly subjects (age >60 years) were studied with BOLD fMRI during a paradigm that involved perceptual processing of fearful and threatening stimuli. Consistent with previous reports, direct group comparisons revealed relatively increased BOLD fMRI responses in prefrontal cortical regions, including Broca's area, and relatively decreased responses in the amygdala and posterior fusiform gyri in elderly subjects. Importantly, additional analyses using an elderly-specific brain template for spatial normalization of the elderly BOLD fMRI data confirmed these divergent regional response patterns. While there was no difference between groups in accuracy on the task, elderly subjects were significantly slower (delayed reaction times) in performing the task. Our current data suggest that elderly subjects engage a more distributed neocortical network during the perceptual processing of emotional facial expressions. In light of recent converging data from two other studies, our observed effects may reflect age-related compensatory responses and/or alternative strategies in processing emotions, as the elderly appear to engage cognitive/linguistic systems in the context of reduced sensory and/or limbic responses.
Tessitore, A; Hariri, AR; Fera, F; Smith, WG; Das, S; Weinberger, DR; Mattay, VS
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