Quantification of Load Dependent Brain Activity in Parametric N-Back Working Memory Tasks using Pseudo-continuous Arterial Spin

Volume 12
Issue 2
Qihong Zou, Hong Gu, Danny J. J. Wang, Jia-Hong Gao, & Yihong Yang
Brain activation and deactivation induced by N-back working memory tasks and their load effects have been extensively investigated using positron emission tomography (PET) and blood-oxygenation level dependent (BOLD) functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). However, the underlying mechanisms of BOLD fMRI are still not completely understood and PET imaging requires injection of radioactive tracers. In this study, a pseudo-continuous arterial spin labeling (pCASL) perfusion imaging technique was used to quantify cerebral blood flow (CBF), a well understood physiological index reflective of cerebral metabolism, in N-back working memory tasks. Using pCASL, we systematically investigated brain activation and deactivation induced by the N-back working memory tasks and further studied the load effects on brain activity based on quantitative CBF. Our data show increased CBF in the fronto- parietal cortices, thalamus, caudate, and cerebellar regions, and decreased CBF in the posterior cingulate cortex and medial prefrontal cortex, during the working memory tasks. Most of the activated/deactivated brain regions show an approximately linear relationship between CBF and task loads (0, 1, 2 and 3 back), although several regions show non-linear relationships (quadratic and cubic). The CBF-based spatial patterns of brain activation/deactivation and load effects from this study agree well with those obtained from BOLD fMRI and PET techniques. These results demonstrate the feasibility of ASL techniques to quantify human brain activity during high cognitive tasks, suggesting its potential application to assessing the mechanisms of cognitive deficits in neuropsychiatric and neurological disorders.

Key words: N-back working memory, cerebral blood flow, load ef fects, pseudo-continuous arterial spin labeling (pCASL)