The functional and structural significance of the frontal shift in the old/new ERP effect

Walhovd KB, Fjell AM, Reinvang I, Lundervold A, Fischl B, Quinn BT, Makris N, Dale AM

Brain Res. 2006 Apr;1081(1):156-70

PMID: 16542641


There is a lack of studies mapping electrophysiological event-related potentials (ERPs) to structural neuroanatomical characteristics. The aim of the present study was to integrate electrophysiological memory-related activity with cortical and hippocampal volume, as well as psychometric memory performance, in a life-span sample. More specifically, we wanted to investigate the functional significance of the often-observed frontal shift of ERP amplitude with increasing age and whether neuroanatomical characteristics can explain this shift. Sixty six healthy participants (20-78 years) went through a neuropsychological examination, MRI scans, and a visual recognition ERP task with verbal stimuli. The results showed that ERPs elicited in the recognition memory task (the old/new effect) correlated significantly with cortical volume, but not with hippocampal volume. Large cortex predicted more differentiated ERP activity and not just larger amplitude in general, implying more distinct and efficient retrieval. Furthermore, ERP amplitude, cortical volume, and hippocampal volume all predicted scores on a composite memory scale. All these relationship were dependent upon the common influence of age. Finally, the participants with the most anterior distribution of activity showed the poorest recognition memory performance. Neither cortical nor hippocampal volume were related to this frontal shift. It is concluded that the distribution of activity along the anterior-posterior axis in a memory paradigm may have functional but not neuroanatomical volumetric correlates. The functional correlates need not be restricted to the older age groups.