Locus coeruleus and dorsal cingulate morphology contributions to slowed processing speed

Mark A. Eckert, Federico Iuricich, Kelly C. Harris, Eric D. Hamlett, Elena M. Vazey, Gary Aston-Jones

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Slowed information processing speed is a defining feature of cognitive aging. Nucleus locus coeruleus (LC) and medial prefrontal regions are targets for understanding slowed processing speed because these brain regions influence neural and behavioral response latencies through their roles in optimizing task performance. Although structural measures of medial prefrontal cortex have been consistently related to processing speed, it is unclear if 1) declines in LC structure underlie this association because of reciprocal connections between LC and medial prefrontal cortex, or 2) if LC declines provide a separate explanation for age-related changes in processing speed. LC and medial prefrontal structural measures were predicted to explain age-dependent individual differences in processing speed in a cross-sectional sample of 43 adults (19–79 years; 63% female). Higher turbo-spin echo LC contrast, based on a persistent homology measure, and greater dorsal cingulate cortical thickness were significantly and each uniquely related to faster processing speed. However, only dorsal cingulate cortical thickness appeared to statistically mediate age-related differences in processing speed. The results suggest that individual differences in cognitive processing speed can be attributed, in part, to structural variation in nucleus LC and medial prefrontal cortex, with the latter key to understanding why older adults exhibit slowed processing speed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number108449
StatePublished - Jan 28 2023

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


  • Aging
  • Dorsal cingulate
  • Locus coeruleus
  • Processing speed


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