Executive functions and neurocognitive aging: dissociable patterns of brain activity

Neurobiol Aging. 2012 Apr;33(4):826.e1-13. doi: 10.1016/j.neurobiolaging.2011.06.005. Epub 2011 Jul 24.


Studies of neurocognitive aging report altered patterns of brain activity in older versus younger adults performing executive function tasks. We review the extant literature, using activation likelihood estimation meta-analytic methods, to compare age-related differences in the pattern of brain activity across studies examining 2 categories of tasks associated with executive control processing: working memory and inhibition. In a direct contrast of young and older adult activations, older adults engaged bilateral regions of dorsolateral prefrontal cortex as well as supplementary motor cortex and left inferior parietal lobule during working memory. In contrast, age-related changes during inhibitory control were observed in right inferior frontal gyrus and presupplementary motor area. Additionally, when we examined task-related differences within each age group we observed the predicted pattern of differentiated neural response in the younger subjects: lateral prefrontal cortex activity associated with working memory versus right anterior insula/frontal opercular activity associated with inhibition. This separation was largely maintained in older subjects. These data provide the first quantitative meta-analytic evidence that age-related patterns of functional brain change during executive functioning depend on the specific control process being challenged.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Age Factors
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping*
  • Databases, Bibliographic / statistics & numerical data
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Inhibition, Psychological
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology
  • Meta-Analysis as Topic
  • Neuroimaging
  • Neuropsychological Tests