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Developmental changes in effective connectivity associated with relational reasoning

Authors

  • Narges Bazargani,

    1. Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London, London, United Kingdom
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  • Hauke Hillebrandt,

    1. Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London, London, United Kingdom
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  • Kalina Christoff,

    1. Department of Psychology, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada
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  • Iroise Dumontheil

    Corresponding author
    1. Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience, University College London, London, United Kingdom
    2. Department of Psychological Sciences, Birkbeck, University of London, London, United Kingdom
    • Correspondence to: Dr. Iroise Dumontheil; Department of Psychological Sciences, Birkbeck, University of London, Malet Street, London WC1E 7HX, United Kingdom. E-mail: i.dumontheil@gmail.com

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Abstract

Rostrolateral prefrontal cortex (RLPFC) is part of a frontoparietal network of regions involved in relational reasoning, the mental process of working with relationships between multiple mental representations. RLPFC has shown functional and structural changes with age, with increasing specificity of left RLPFC activation for relational integration during development. Here, we used dynamic causal modeling (DCM) to investigate changes in effective connectivity during a relational reasoning task through the transition from adolescence into adulthood. We examined fMRI data of 37 healthy female participants (11–30 years old) performing a relational reasoning paradigm. Comparing relational integration to the manipulation of single relations revealed activation in five regions: the RLPFC, anterior insula, dorsolateral PFC, inferior parietal lobe, and medial superior frontal gyrus. We used a new exhaustive search approach and identified a full DCM model, which included all reciprocal connections between the five clusters in the left hemisphere, as the optimal model. In line with previous resting state fMRI results, we showed distinct developmental effects on the strength of long-range frontoparietal versus frontoinsular short-range fixed connections. The modulatory connections associated with relational integration increased with age. Gray matter volume in left RLPFC, which decreased with age, partly accounted for changes in fixed PFC connectivity. Finally, improvements in relational integration performance were associated with greater modulatory and weaker fixed PFC connectivity. This pattern provides further evidence of increasing specificity of left PFC function for relational integration compared to the manipulation of single relations, and demonstrates an association between effective connectivity and performance during development. Hum Brain Mapp 35:3262–3276, 2014. © 2013 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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