Cognitive Neuroscience of Aging: Linking Cognitive and Cerebral Aging

By Roberto Cabeza; Lars Nyberg et al. | Go to book overview

3
The Role of Dopamine Systems
in Cognitive Aging

Lars Bäckman

Lars Farde

In this chapter, we review the extant literature on the influence of agerelated changes in the nigrostriatal dopamine (DA) system on age-related cognitive changes. In so doing, we draw primarily on research using molecular imaging modalities to quantify DA biomarkers in the living human brain. The chapter is organized as follows: First, we provide an empirical and theoretical rationale for the cognitive relevance of DA. This is followed by an overview of the organization of DA systems in the brain. Next, we describe the basic principles for imaging of the DA system. We then discuss evidence for an influence of adult age on various DA markers. Following this, the major findings in behavioral research on cognitive aging are reviewed. The sections converge into a review of research examining the correlative triad among age, DA markers, and cognitive performance. The findings from this research are then positioned in relation to other theory and data in the cognitive neuroscience of aging. Finally, we conclude by suggesting avenues for future empirical research on DA functions and cognitive aging.


Dopamine and Cognitive Functioning

A key role of the nigrostriatal DA system in efficient motor functioning has long been known, mainly from observations of patients with degenerative brain disorders affecting the striatum (e.g., Freed & Yamamoto, 1985; McEntee, Mair, & Langlais, 1987). However, several lines of evidence from more recent studies suggested that DA is also critically involved in many higher order cognitive functions.

First, studies on subject populations with severe alterations of the DA system, such as patients with Huntington’s disease (HD) and Parkinson’s disease (PD), indi-

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