October 30, 2020

Age-related differences in the role of the prefrontal cortex in sensory-motor training gains: A tDCS study

The ability to process multiple sources of information concurrently is particularly impaired as individuals age and such age-related increases in multitasking costs have been linked to impairments in response selection. Previous neuroimaging studies with young adults have implicated the left hemisphere prefrontal cortex (PFC) as a key neural substrate of response selection. In addition, several transcranial direct current stimulation studies (tDCS) have provided causal evidence implicating this region in response selection and multitasking operations. For example, Filmer at al. (2013b) demonstrated that typically observed response selection learning/training gains in young adults were disrupted via offline transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS) of left, but not right, PFC. Here, considering evidence of functional dedifferentiation in the brains of older adults, we assessed if this pattern of response selection learning disruption via tDCS to the left PFC is observed in older adults, testing if this region remains a key response selection node as individuals age. In a pre-registered study with 58 older adults, we applied anodal, cathodal, and sham stimulation to left and right PFC, and measured performance as participants trained on low- and high-response selection load tasks. Active stimulation did not disrupt training in older adults as compared to younger adults. However, there was evidence of enhanced training gains via tDCS, which scaled with response selection task difficulty. The results highlight age-related differences in the casual neural substrates that subserve response selection and learning.

 bioRxiv Subject Collection: Neuroscience

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