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Structural and functional differences in medial prefrontal cortex underlie distractibility and suppression deficits in ageing


Older adults experience deficits in working memory (WM) that are acutely exacerbated by the presence of distracting information. Human neurophysiological studies have revealed that these changes are accompanied by a diminished ability to suppress visual cortical activity associated with task-irrelevant information. Although this is often attributed to deficits in top-down control from a prefrontal cortical source, this has not yet been directly demonstrated. Here we evaluate the neural basis of distraction's negative impact on WM and the impairment in neural suppression in older adults by performing structural and functional MRIs while older participants engage in tasks that require remembering relevant visual stimuli in the context of overlapping irrelevant stimuli. Analysis supports both an age-related distraction effect and neural suppression deficit, and extends our understanding by revealing an alteration in functional connectivity between visual cortices and a region in the default network, the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC). Moreover, within the older population, the magnitude of WM distractibility and neural suppression are both associated with individual differences in cortical volume and activity of the mPFC, as well as its associated white-matter tracts.

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