Prefrontal Cortical Activation Associated with Working Memory in Adults and Preschool Children: An Event-related Optical Topography Study

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It is well known that lateral areas of the prefrontal cortex (LPFC) play a central role in working memory (a critical basis of various cognitive functions), but it remains unknown whether the LPFC of children of preschool age is responsible for working memory. To address this issue, we adopted a recently developed non-invasive imaging technique, optical topography (OT), which can potentially be applied to functional mapping in childhood. We firstly examined changes of activity in the LPFC using OT while adult subjects performed an item-recognition task, which requires working memory, under different memory-load conditions. We observed activation in the bilateral LPFC during performance of this task, the magnitude of which differed depending on memory-load. Then, we applied the same technique on 5- and 6-year-old children and observed the activation associated with working memory in the LPFC. Areas and properties of such activity were similar in adults and preschool children. Thus, for the first time, we demonstrate that the LPFC of preschoolers is active during working memory processes, indicating that in 5- and 6-year-old children, the LPFC has already developed processing of this important cognitive function.

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