Age-Related Differences in Brain Activity Underlying Working Memory for Spatial and Nonspatial Auditory Information

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We used functional magnetic resonance imaging and a 1-back task to assess working memory (WM) for spatial (sound location) and nonspatial (sound category) auditory information in younger and older adults. A mixed block–event-related design was used to measure sustained activity during each task block and transient activity to targets (repetitions of location or category). In both groups, there was increased sustained activity for category WM in left anterior temporal cortex and inferior prefrontal cortex (PFC) and increased activity for location WM in right inferior parietal cortex and dorsal PFC. There were no reliable age differences in this pattern of activity. Older adults had more sustained activity than younger adults in left PFC during both tasks, suggesting that additional PFC recruitment in older adults reflects nonspecific engagement of frontally mediated task-monitoring processes. Both groups showed lower transient than sustained activity in auditory cortex bilaterally; however, older adults showed smaller target-related reductions of activity during the category task. A greater reduction of activity to category targets in left auditory cortex was associated with better performance on this task in older adults, suggesting that a failure to modulate activity appropriately when a stimulus is repeated, or when a particular feature of the stimulus is repeated, could lead to reduced ability to detect this repetition.

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