Worry Modifies the Relationship between Locus Coeruleus Activity and Emotional Mnemonic Discrimination

Brain Sci. 2022 Mar 12;12(3):381. doi: 10.3390/brainsci12030381.


Background: The locus coeruleus (LC) plays a critical role in modulating emotional memory performance via widespread connections to the medial temporal lobe (MTL). Interestingly, both the LC and MTL are affected during aging. Therefore, we aimed to investigate whether worry during cognitive aging changes the relationship between memory performance and the neural activity patterns during an emotional memory task.

Methods: Twenty-eight participants aged 60-83 years from the Maastricht Aging study conducted an emotional mnemonic discrimination task during a 7T fMRI-scan. We performed a robust multiple linear regression to examine the association between worry and mnemonic memory performance under different levels of arousal. Subsequently, we examined if worry modifies the relationship between neuronal activity and mnemonic memory performance.

Results: We observed that under low arousal, only participants with low compared to high levels of worry benefitted from additional LC activity. Under high arousal, additional LC activity was associated with lower mnemonic memory performance.

Conclusion: Our results suggest there might be an optimal involvement of the NA-system for optimal memory discrimination performance, as we observed that under low levels of worry and with lower levels of arousal, higher LC activity might be needed to achieve similar levels of optimal memory performance as achieved under higher arousal when LC activity remained lower.

Keywords: aging; emotional mnemonic discrimination; locus coeruleus; worry.