Eight adolescents (ages 13-18 years) who sustained traumatic brain injury (TBI) and eight gender- and age-matched typically developing (TD) adolescents underwent event-related functional MRI (fMRI) while performing a Sternberg letter recognition task. Encoding, maintenance, and retrieval were examined with memory loads of one or four items during imaging. Both groups performed above a 70% accuracy criterion and did not differ in performance. TD adolescents showed greater increase in frontal and parietal activation during high-load relative to low-load maintenance than the TBI group. The TBI patients showed greater increase in activation during high-load relative to low-load encoding and retrieval than the TD group. Results from this preliminary study suggest that the capability to differentially allocate neural resources according to memory load is disrupted by TBI for the maintenance subcomponent of working memory. The overrecruitment of frontal and extrafrontal regions during encoding and retrieval following TBI may represent a compensatory process.
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