Associative learning over trials activates the hippocampus in healthy elderly but not mild cognitive impairment

Johnson SC, Schmitz TW, Asthana S, Gluck MA, Myers C

Neuropsychol Dev Cogn B Aging Neuropsychol Cogn. 2008 Mar;15(2):129-45.


The ability to form associations between choice alternatives and their contingent outcomes is an important aspect of learning that may be sensitive to hippocampal dysfunction in memory disorders of aging such as amnestic mild cognitive impairment (MCIa), or early Alzheimer disease. In this preliminary study we examined brain activation using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) in 12 healthy elderly participants and nine patients with MCIa during an associative learning task. Using a high-field 3.0-Tesla MRI scanner, we examined the dynamic neural response during associative learning over trials. The slope of signal attenuation associated with learning was analyzed for differences between groups within an a priori defined hippocampal region. Results indicated dynamic signal attenuation associated with learning in the healthy elderly sample, but not in MCIa. The absence of an associative learning effect in the MCIa sample reaffirms an important link between the learning difficulties that are commonly encountered in MCIa and the mesial temporal region.

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