One of the most reliable psychophysiological markers of aging is a linear decrease in the amplitude of the P300 potential, accompanied by a more frontal topographical orientation, but the precise neural origins of these differences have yet to be explored. We acquired simultaneous electroencephalogram (EEG)/functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) recordings from 14 older and 15 younger adults who performed a 3-stimulus visual oddball task designed to elicit P3a and P3b components. As in previous reports, older adults had significantly reduced P3a/P3b amplitudes over parietal electrodes but larger amplitudes over frontal scalp with no between-group differences in accuracy or reaction time. Electroencephalogram/functional magnetic resonance imaging fusion revealed that the P3a age effects were driven by increased activation of left inferior frontal and cingulate cortex and decreased activation of inferior parietal cortex in the older group. P3b differences were driven by increased activation of left temporal regions, right hippocampus, and right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex in the older group. Our results support the proposal that the age-related P300 anterior shift arises from an increased reliance on prefrontal structures to support target and distractor processing.
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