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Top-down suppression deficit underlies working memory impairment in normal aging

An Erratum to this article was published on 01 December 2005


In this study, we assess the impact of normal aging on top-down modulation, a cognitive control mechanism that supports both attention and memory by the suppression and enhancement of sensory processing in accordance with task goals. Using fMRI (functional magnetic resonance imaging), we show that healthy older adults demonstrated a prominent deficit in the suppression of cortical activity associated with task-irrelevant representations, whereas enhancement of task-relevant activity was preserved. Moreover, this suppression-specific attention deficit correlated with impaired working memory performance.

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Figure 1: Experimental framework.
Figure 2: fMRI data showing a selective deficit of top-down suppression in older adults.
Figure 3: Relationship of suppression deficit and working memory deficit in aging.

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This work was supported by the US National Institutes of Health and the American Federation of Aging Research (A.G.) and the NIH (M.D.). We thank D. Pino for helpful discussions and J. Hoffman and A. Rutman for assistance with neuropsychological testing.

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Correspondence to Adam Gazzaley.

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Gazzaley, A., Cooney, J., Rissman, J. et al. Top-down suppression deficit underlies working memory impairment in normal aging. Nat Neurosci 8, 1298–1300 (2005).

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