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White matter microstructural correlates of associative learning in the oldest-old.

  • Merenstein, Jenna L
  • Corrada, María M
  • Kawas, Claudia H
  • Bennett, Ilana J
Publication Date
Sep 01, 2022
eScholarship - University of California
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The ability to learn associations between events is critical for everyday functioning (e.g., decision making, social interactions) and has been attributed to structural differences in white matter tracts connecting cortical regions to the hippocampus (e.g., fornix) and striatum (e.g., internal capsule) in younger-old adults (ages 65-85 years). However, evidence of associative learning has not been assessed within oldest-old adults (ages 90+ years), despite its relevance to other extensively characterized cognitive abilities in the oldest-old and the relatively large effect of advanced age on the microstructural composition of these white matter tracts. We acquired multicompartment diffusion-weighted magnetic resonance imaging data from 22 oldest-old adults without dementia (mean age = 92.91 ± 1.44 years) who also completed an associative learning task. Behavioral results revealed significantly better associative learning performance during later task stages, as expected if participants incidentally learned the cue-cue-target associations for frequently occurring event triplets. Moreover, better learning performance was significantly predicted by better microstructure of cortico-striatal white matter (posterior limb of the internal capsule). Finding that associative learning abilities in the 10th decade of life are supported by better microstructure of white matter tracts connecting the cortex to the striatum underscores their importance to learning performance across the entire lifespan.

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