Abstract

We used fMRI to assess the neural correlates of autobiographical, semantic, and episodic memory retrieval in healthy young and older adults. Participants were tested with an event-related paradigm in which retrieval demand was the only factor varying between trials. A spatio-temporal partial least square analysis was conducted to identify the main patterns of activity characterizing the groups across conditions. We identified brain regions activated by all three memory conditions relative to a control condition. This pattern was expressed equally in both age groups and replicated previous findings obtained in a separate group of younger adults. We also identified regions whose activity differentiated among the different memory conditions. These patterns of differentiation were expressed less strongly in the older adults than in the young adults, a finding that was further confirmed by a barycentric discriminant analysis. This analysis showed an age-related dedifferentiation in autobiographical and episodic memory tasks but not in the semantic memory task or the control condition. These findings suggest that the activation of a common memory retrieval network is maintained with age, whereas the specific aspects of brain activity that differ with memory content are more vulnerable and less selectively engaged in older adults. Our results provide a potential neural mechanism for the well-known age differences in episodic/autobiographical memory, and preserved semantic memory, observed when older adults are compared with younger adults.

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