Brain regions associated with episodic retrieval in normal aging and Alzheimer’s disease.

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OBJECTIVE: To examine patterns of brain activation during verbal episodic retrieval in normal elderly subjects and patients in an early phase of AD.

BACKGROUND: It is established that 1) a profound episodic memory impairment is a cardinal symptom of AD; and 2) some of the earliest brain changes in this disease occur in regions critical to episodic memory, such as the hippocampus and neighboring regions. Yet, it remains largely unknown whether the episodic memory deficit seen in AD is paralleled by concomitant alterations in brain activity during actual task performance in these or other brain areas.

METHODS: Using PET, blood flow was assessed in normal elderly subjects and patients with early AD during two retrieval conditions involving completion of word stems: baseline and cued recall.

RESULTS: The patients with AD showed a marked performance deficit in cued recall, although the two groups were indistinguishable in the baseline task condition. Both groups showed bilateral activity in orbital and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, left precuneus, and right cerebellum, as well as decreased activity in distinct left temporal regions during cued recall. The normal elderly alone activated the left parietal cortex and the left hippocampal formation during episodic retrieval. By contrast, AD-related increases in activity during cued recall were observed in the left orbital prefrontal cortex and left cerebellum.

CONCLUSIONS: The similar patterns of activations in the two groups suggest that a large distributed network involved in episodic memory retrieval functions relatively normally in early AD. Those retrieval activations seen in the normal elderly, as opposed to the patients, may reflect AD-related failures in semantic processing and successful recollection of the target information, respectively. Finally, the AD-related increases in activity were interpreted in terms of compensatory reactions to the difficulties in performing the episodic memory task.

Source: Neurology 1999 Jun 10;52(9):1861-70

PMID: 10371535, UI: 99297945

(Department of Psychology, Uppsala University, Sweden.)

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