Neural underpinnings of background acoustic noise in normal aging and mild cognitive impairment

Neuroscience. 2015 Dec 3:310:410-21. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroscience.2015.09.031. Epub 2015 Sep 29.


Previous contributions in younger cohorts have revealed that reallocation of cerebral resources, a crucial mechanism for working memory (WM), may be disrupted by parallel demands of background acoustic noise suppression. To date, no study has explored the impact of such disruption on brain activation in elderly individuals with or without subtle cognitive deficits. We performed a functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) study in 23 cases (mean age=75.7 y.o., 16 men) with mild cognitive impairment (MCI) and 16 elderly healthy controls (HC, mean age=70.1 y.o., three men) using a 2-back WM task, under two distinct MRI background acoustic noise conditions (louder vs. lower noise echo-planar imaging). General linear models were used to assess brain activation as a function of group and noise. In both groups, lower background noise is associated with increased activation of the working memory network (WMN). A decrease of the normally observed deactivation of the default mode network (DMN) is found under louder noise in both groups. Unlike HC, MCI cases also show decreased deactivation of the DMN under both louder and lower background noise. Under louder noise, this decrease is observed in anterior parts of the DMN in HC, and in the posterior cingulate cortex in MCI cases. Our results suggest that background acoustic noise has a differential impact on WMN activation in normal aging as a function of the cognitive status. Only louder noise has a disruptive effect on the usually observed DMN deactivation during WM task performance in HC. In contrast, MCI cases show altered DMN reactivity even in the presence of lower noise.

Keywords: background acoustic noise; default mode network (DMN); mild cognitive impairment (MCI); posterior cingulated cortex (PCC); working memory network (WMN).

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Acoustic Stimulation
  • Aging*
  • Auditory Perception / physiology*
  • Brain / physiology*
  • Brain / physiopathology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / physiopathology*
  • Cognitive Dysfunction / psychology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Memory, Short-Term / physiology*
  • Noise / adverse effects*
  • Sound Spectrography
  • Visual Perception / physiology