DOI: 10.1002/alz.082868 ISSN: 1552-5260

Age‐related and AD pathology‐related differences in neural activation and neural specificity in memory

Xi Chen, Leah Varghese, Suzanne L. Baker, William J. Jagust
  • Psychiatry and Mental health
  • Cellular and Molecular Neuroscience
  • Geriatrics and Gerontology
  • Neurology (clinical)
  • Developmental Neuroscience
  • Health Policy
  • Epidemiology



Beta‐amyloid (Aß) and tau deposition is spatially selective in the early stages of Alzheimer’s Disease (AD), with Aß depositing predominately in posterior‐medial (PM) regions and tau accumulating in the medial temporal lobe (MTL) with increasing age before spreading to anterior‐temporal (AT) regions. Functionally, AT and PM are linked to object and scene processing, respectively, and the hippocampus in the MTL is important for integration and forming associations between objects and scenes. Given the differential vulnerability of AT, PM, and MTL to Aß and tau, we examined the behavioral and neural differences in memory for objects, scenes, and object‐in‐scene pairs between young and cognitively normal older adults with and without AD pathologies.


Twenty‐three young (19‐34 yrs) and 32 older (60‐91 yrs) participants completed an incidental encoding task on object, scene, and object‐in‐scene pair images during fMRI and a recognition test outside the scanner (Fig.1). Thirty older participants underwent PiB and FTP PET that measured Aß and tau. We conducted univariate whole‐brain analysis and multi‐voxel pattern analysis (MVPA) of AT, PM, and the hippocampus. The MVPA trains a support vector machine to classify the stimulus category (object, scene, pair) based on the ROI’s activation pattern. A higher classification accuracy represents informative neural representation that reflects functional specificity of the region.


Behaviorally, older people had worse object (ps<.027) and pair (ps<.017) memory. Greater temporal meta‐ROI tau was related to worse object (p = .032) and pair (p = .022) memory. Whole‐brain analyses showed activations in AT and PM networks for object and scene processing, and additional frontal, temporal, and occipital regions for pair processing (Fig.2A‐C) where older adults, compared to younger adults, showed activation reductions in fusiform, parahippocampal, precuneus, and occipital regions (Fig.2D). The MVPA revealed age‐related reductions in classification accuracy for pairs (Fig.3A) and that greater Aß and tau were related to lower accuracy in the hippocampus (Fig.3B).


We found evidence supporting specific vulnerabilities in object and associative memory in older adults correlated with tau pathology. FMRI findings suggest both lower neural activation and lower neural specificity in older adults when processing complex associations. AD pathology appears to contribute to lower neural specificity in the hippocampus.

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