Prefrontal activation may predict working-memory training gain in normal aging and mild cognitive impairment


Cognitive training has been shown to result in improved behavioral performance in normal aging and mild cognitive impairment (MCI), yet little is known about the neural correlates of cognitive plasticity, or about individual differences in responsiveness to cognitive training. In this study, 21 healthy older adults and 14 patients with MCI received five weeks of adaptive computerized working-memory (WM) training. Before and after training, functional Near-Infrared Spectroscopy (fNIRS) was used to assess the hemodynamic response in left and right prefrontal cortex during performance of a verbal n-back task with varying levels of WM load. After training, healthy older adults demonstrated decreased prefrontal activation at high WM load, which may indicate increased processing efficiency. Although MCI patients showed improved behavioral performance at low WM load after training, no evidence was found for training-related changes in prefrontal activation. Whole-group analyses showed that a relatively strong hemodynamic response at low WM load was related to worse behavioral performance, while a relatively strong hemodynamic response at high WM load was related to higher training gain. Therefore, a ‘youth-like' prefrontal activation pattern at older age may be associated with better behavioral outcome and cognitive plasticity.

Brain Imaging and Behavior