The ultimate goal of cognitive enhancement as an intervention for age-related cognitive decline is transfer to everyday cognitive functioning. Development of training methods that transfer broadly to untrained cognitive tasks (far transfer) requires understanding of the neural bases of training and far transfer effects. We used cognitive training to test the hypothesis that far transfer is associated with altered attentional control demands mediated by the dorsal attention network and trained sensory cortex. In an exploratory study, we randomly assigned 42 healthy older adults to six weeks of training on Brain Fitness (BF-auditory perception), Space Fortress (SF-visuomotor/working memory), or Rise of Nations (RON-strategic reasoning). Before and after training, cognitive performance, diffusion-derived white matter integrity, and functional connectivity of the superior parietal cortex (SPC) were assessed. We found the strongest effects from BF training, which transferred to everyday problem solving and reasoning and selectively changed integrity of occipito-temporal white matter associated with improvement on untrained everyday problem solving. These results show that cognitive gain from auditory perception training depends on heightened white matter integrity in the ventral attention network. In BF and SF (which also transferred positively), a decrease in functional connectivity between SPC and inferior temporal lobe (ITL) was observed compared to RON-which did not transfer to untrained cognitive function. These findings highlight the importance for cognitive training of top-down control of sensory processing by the dorsal attention network. Altered brain connectivity - observed in the two training tasks that showed far transfer effects - may be a marker for training success.
Keywords: Aging; Attention; Cognitive training; Far transfer; Functional connectivity; Superior parietal cortex; White matter integrity.
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