Contribution of NIRS to the study of prefrontal cortex for verbal fluency in aging

Brain Lang. 2012 May;121(2):164-73. doi: 10.1016/j.bandl.2011.11.002. Epub 2012 Jan 29.


Healthy aging is characterized by a number of changes on brain structure and function. Several neuroimaging studies have shown an age-related reduction in hemispheric asymmetry on various cognitive tasks, a phenomenon captured by Cabeza (2002) in the Hemispheric Asymmetry Reduction in Older Adults (HAROLD) model. Although this phenomenon is supported by a range of neuroimaging data on memory and inhibitory processes, there is little evidence concerning changes in hemispheric asymmetry for language processing, and particularly word retrieval, which is assessed with verbal fluency task (VFT). This study aimed to investigate the age-related changes in cerebral oxygenation in the prefrontal cortex for both letter and category VFT, varying the complexity of the criteria (i.e., degree of productivity) and using near-infrared spectroscopy (NIRS). Sixteen younger and 16 older adults participated in this study. For both VF conditions, participants were instructed to pronounce as many nouns as possible as a function of high-productivity (e.g., "animals" or "L") or low-productivity (e.g., "flowers" or "V") criteria. Behavioral data (i.e., accuracy responses) showed comparable performance in younger and older adults for both VF conditions. However, NIRS data showed more reduced activation (i.e., significantly reduced increase in [O(2)Hb] and reduced decrease in [HHb]) in older than younger adults for both VFT. In addition, a bilateral effect was found for both groups, suggesting that VFT requires both executive and language functions. The results are discussed in the context of the current theories of aging.

MeSH terms

  • Aged
  • Aging / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping / methods*
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiopathology*
  • Spectroscopy, Near-Infrared / methods*
  • Young Adult