Longitudinal evidence for functional specialization of the neural circuit supporting working memory in the human brain.

Finn, AS, Sheridan MA, Kam CHL, Hinshaw S, D’Esposito.  2010.  Longitudinal evidence for functional specialization of the neural circuit supporting working memory in the human brain., 2010 Aug 18. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience. 30:11062-7.


Although children perform more poorly than adults on many cognitive measures, they are better able to learn things such as language and music. These differences could result from the delayed specialization of neural circuits and asynchronies in the maturation of neural substrates required for learning. Working memory–the ability to hold information in mind that is no longer present in the environment–comprises a set of cognitive processes required for many, if not all, forms of learning. A critical neural substrate for working memory (the prefrontal cortex) continues to mature through early adulthood. What are the functional consequences of this late maturation for working memory? Using a longitudinal design, we show that although individuals recruit prefrontal cortex as expected during both early and late adolescence during a working memory task, this recruitment is correlated with behavior only in late adolescence. The hippocampus is also recruited, but only during early, and not late, adolescence. Moreover, the hippocampus and prefrontal cortex are coactive in early adolescence regardless of task demands or performance, in contrast to the pattern seen in late adolescents and adults, when these regions are coactive only under high task demands. Together, these data demonstrate that neural circuitry underlying working memory changes during adolescent development. The diminishing contribution of the hippocampus in working memory function with age is an important observation that informs questions about how children and adults learn differently.



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