Cerebellar and prefrontal-cortical engagement during higher-order rule learning in older adulthood
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To date most aging research has focused on cortical systems and networks, ignoring the cerebellum which has been implicated in both cognitive and motor function. Critically, older adults (OA) show marked differences in cerebellar volume and functional networks, suggesting it may play a key role in the behavioral differences observed in advanced age. OA may be less able to recruit cerebellar resources due to network and structural differences. Here, 26 young adults (YA) and 25 OA performed a second-order learning task, known to activate the cerebellum in the fMRI environment. Behavioral results indicated that YA performed significantly better and learned more quickly compared to OA. Functional imaging detailed robust parietal and cerebellar activity during learning (compared to control) blocks within each group. OA showed increased activity (relative to YA) in the left inferior parietal lobe in response to instruction cues during learning (compared to control); whereas, YA showed increased activity (relative to OA) in the left anterior cingulate to feedback cues during learning, potentially explaining age-related performance differences. Visual interpretation of effect size maps showed more bilateral posterior cerebellar activation in OA compared to YA during learning blocks, but early learning showed widespread cerebellar activation in YA compared to OA. There were qualitatively large age-related differences in cerebellar recruitment in terms of effect sizes, yet no statistical difference. These findings serve to further elucidate age-related differences and similarities in cerebellar and cortical brain function and implicate the cerebellum and its networks as regions of interest in aging research.
author list (cited authors)
Jackson, T. B., Maldonado, T., Eakin, S. M., Orr, J. M., & Bernard, J. A.