Longitudinal change in executive function is associated with impaired top-down frontolimbic regulation during reappraisal in older adults

William K. Lloyd, Jayne Morriss, Birthe Macdonald, Karin Joanknecht, Julie Nihouarn, Carien M. van Reekum*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Networks in the prefrontal cortex (PFC) that are important for executive function are also engaged in adaptive responding to negative events. These networks are particularly vulnerable to age-related structural atrophy and an associated loss of executive function, yet existing evidence suggests preserved emotion processing ability in ageing. Using longitudinally acquired data from a battery of cognitive tasks, we defined a metric for the rate of decline of executive function. With this metric, we investigated relationships between changes in executive function and emotion reappraisal ability and brain structure, in 34 older adults, using functional and structural MRI. During task-based fMRI, participants were asked to cognitively reappraise negatively valenced images. We hypothesised one of two associations with decreasing executive function over time: 1) a decreased ability to reappraise reflected in decreased PFC and increased amygdala activation, or 2) a neural compensation mechanism characterised by increased PFC activation but no differential amygdala activation. Structurally, for a decreased reappraisal ability, we predicted a decrease in grey matter in PFC and/or a decrease of white matter integrity in amygdala-PFC pathways. Neither of the two hypotheses relating to brain function were completely supported, with the findings indicating a steeper decline in executive function associated with both increased PFC and increased left amygdala activity when reappraising negative stimuli. In addition, white matter integrity of the uncinate fasciculus, a primary white matter tract connecting the amygdala and ventromedial areas of PFC, was lower in those individuals who demonstrated a greater decrease in executive function. These findings highlight the association of diminishing cognitive ability with brain structure and function linked to emotion regulation.

Original languageEnglish
Article number117488
JournalNeuroImage
Volume225
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 15 Jan 2021

Keywords

  • Ageing
  • Amygdala
  • Emotion regulation
  • Longitudinal executive function
  • Prefrontal cortex
  • Uncinate fasciculus

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