Age-related differences on event-related potentials and brain rhythm oscillations during working memory activation

Missonnier, Pascal ; Herrmann, François ; Rodriguez, Christelle ; Deiber, Marie-Pierre ; Millet, Phiippe ; Fazio-costa, Lara ; Gold, Gabriel ; Giannakopoulos, Panteleimon

In: Journal of Neural Transmission, 2011, vol. 118, no. 6, p. 945-955

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    Previous functional imaging studies have pointed to the compensatory recruitment of cortical circuits in old age in order to counterbalance the loss of neural efficiency and preserve cognitive performance. Recent electroencephalographic (EEG) analyses reported age-related deficits in the amplitude of an early positive-negative working memory (PNwm) component as well as changes in working memory (WM)-load related brain oscillations during the successful performance of the n-back task. To explore the age-related differences of EEG activation in the face of increasing WM demands, we assessed the PNwm component area, parietal alpha event-related synchronization (ERS) as well as frontal theta ERS in 32 young and 32 elderly healthy individuals who successfully performed a highly WM demanding 3-back task. PNwm area increased with higher memory loads (3- and 2-back>0-back tasks) in younger subjects. Older subjects reached the maximal values for this EEG parameter during the less WM demanding 0-back task. They showed a rapid development of an alpha ERS that reached its maximal amplitude at around 800ms after stimulus onset. In younger subjects, the late alpha ERS occurred between 1,200 and 2,000ms and its amplitude was significantly higher compared with elders. Frontal theta ERS culmination peak decreased in a task-independent manner in older compared with younger cases. Only in younger individuals, there was a significant decrease in the phasic frontal theta ERS amplitude in the 2- and 3-back tasks compared with the detection and 0-back tasks. These observations suggest that older adults display a rapid mobilization of their neural generators within the parietal cortex to manage very low demanding WM tasks. Moreover, they are less able to activate frontal theta generators during attentional tasks compared with younger persons