Autobiographical Memory and Elaboration (St. Jacques et al., in press, Neurobio. of Aging)

May 1, 2011

Older adults recall less episodically rich autobiographical memories (AM), however, the neural basis of this effect is not clear.  Using functionalMRI, we examined the neural correlates supporting memory retrieval while young and older adults searched for and elaborated upon AMs.  Our results suggest that the age-related attenuation in the episodic richness of AMs is associated with difficulty employing controlled processes during elaboration.  First, age effects on AM activity were more pronounced during elaboration than search, with older adults showing less sustained recruitment of the hippocampus (top panel of figure) and ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (VLPFC; bottom panel of figure) for less episodically rich AMs.  Second, the influence of the VLPFC on the hippocampus was reduced in aging for episodically rich AMs.  In sum, the present study shows that changes in the sustained response and coupling of the hippocampus and VLPFC underlie age-related reductions in episodic richness of the personal past.

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