We used H215O PET to investigate adult age differences in regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF) during the performance of a visual word identification task. The study participants were 20 healthy, right-handed men: 10 young adults between 18 and 27 years of age, and 10 older adults between 63 and 75 years of age. The word identification task comprised six blocks of test trials representing four task conditions; subjects responded manually. The task conditions varied with regard to whether semantic retrieval was required (e.g., word/nonword discrimination vs simple response to each stimulus) and with regard to the difficulty of visual encoding (e.g., words presented normally vs words with asterisks inserted between adjacent letters). Each subject performed all six trial blocks, concurrently with each of six H215O PET scans. Analyses of quantitative CBF data obtained from the arterial time-activity curve demonstrated a significant age-related decline in global CBF rate. Analyses of the changes in rCBF between task conditions indicated that retrieval of semantic information sufficient to distinguish words from nonwords is mediated by a ventral occipitotemporal cortical pathway. Specific areas within this pathway were also associated with visual encoding processes. Several rCBF activations were significantly greater for young adults than for older adults, indicating an age-related decline in processing efficiency within this ventral occipitotemporal pathway. Although the performance data demonstrated a greater age-related slowing for visual encoding than for semantic retrieval, these age-related performance changes were not associated with corresponding changes in rCBF activation.
Adolescent • Adult • Aged • Aging • Attention • Brain • Brain Mapping* • Female • Humans • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted* • Male • Mental Recall • Middle Aged • Reading* • Reference Values • Regional Blood Flow • Tomography, Emission-Computed* • Verbal Learning • blood supply* • physiology • physiology*