Lifespan differences in visual short-term memory load-modulated functional connectivity.


Working memory is critical to higher-order executive processes and declines throughout the adult lifespan. However, our understanding of the neural mechanisms underlying this decline is limited. Recent work suggests that functional connectivity between frontal control and posterior visual regions may be critical, but examinations of age differences therein have been limited to a small set of brain regions and extreme group designs (i.e., comparing young and older adults). In this study, we build on previous research by using a lifespan cohort and a whole-brain approach to investigate working memory load-modulated functional connectivity in relation to age and performance. The article reports on analysis of the Cambridge center for Ageing and Neuroscience (Cam-CAN) data. Participants from a population-based lifespan cohort (N = 101, age 23-86) performed a visual short-term memory task during functional magnetic resonance imaging. Visual short-term memory was measured with a delayed recall task for visual motion with three different loads. Whole-brain load-modulated functional connectivity was estimated using psychophysiological interactions in a hundred regions of interest, sorted into seven networks (Schaefer et al., 2018, Yeo et al., 2011). Results showed that load-modulated functional connectivity was strongest within the dorsal attention and visual networks during encoding and maintenance. With increasing age, load-modulated functional connectivity strength decreased throughout the cortex. Whole-brain analyses for the relation between connectivity and behavior were non-significant. Our results give additional support to the sensory recruitment model of working memory. We also demonstrate the widespread negative impact of age on the modulation of functional connectivity by working memory load. Older adults might already be close to ceiling in terms of their neural resources at the lowest load and therefore less able to further increase connectivity with increasing task demands.