The neural correlates of recollection and retrieval monitoring: Relationships with age and recollection performance

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Abstract

The relationships between age, retrieval-related neural activity, and episodic memory performance were investigated in samples of young (18–29 yrs), middle-aged (43–55 yrs) and older (63–76 yrs) healthy adults. Participants underwent fMRI scanning during an associative recognition test that followed a study task performed on visually presented word pairs. Test items comprised pairs of intact (studied pairs), rearranged (items studied on different trials) and new words. fMRI recollection effects were operationalized as greater activity for studied pairs correctly endorsed as intact than for pairs incorrectly endorsed as rearranged. The reverse contrast was employed to identify retrieval monitoring effects. Robust recollection effects were identified in the core recollection network, comprising the hippocampus, along with parahippocampal and posterior cingulate cortex, left angular gyrus and medial prefrontal cortex. Retrieval monitoring effects were identified in the anterior cingulate and right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex. Neither recollection effects within the core network, nor the monitoring effects differed significantly across the age groups after controlling for individual differences in associative recognition performance. Whole brain analyses did however identify three clusters outside of these regions where recollection effects were greater in the young than in the other age groups. Across-participant regression analyses indicated that the magnitude of hippocampal and medial prefrontal cortex recollection effects, and both of the prefrontal monitoring effects, correlated significantly with memory performance. None of these correlations were moderated by age. The findings suggest that the relationships between memory performance and functional activity in regions consistently implicated in successful recollection and retrieval monitoring are stable across much of the healthy adult lifespan.

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