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Behavioural Neurology
Volume 2016, Article ID 1637392, 13 pages
Research Article

The Effect of Task-Irrelevant Fearful-Face Distractor on Working Memory Processing in Mild Cognitive Impairment versus Healthy Controls: An Exploratory fMRI Study in Female Participants

1Division of Geriatric Psychiatry at Schulich School of Medicine, Parkwood Institute, Mental Health Care Building, F2-349, London, ON, Canada N6C 0A7
2Lawson Imaging, Lawson Health Research Institute, London, ON, Canada N6A 4V2
3CAMH, Toronto, ON, Canada M5T 1R8
4Department of Psychiatry at Schulich School of Medicine, The Brain and Mind Institute, Natural Sciences Centre, London, ON, Canada N6A 5B7

Received 17 October 2015; Revised 31 December 2015; Accepted 5 January 2016

Academic Editor: Gianfranco Spalletta

Copyright © 2016 Amer M. Burhan et al. This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.


In mild cognitive impairment (MCI), a risk state for Alzheimer’s disease, patients have objective cognitive deficits with relatively preserved functioning. fMRI studies have identified anomalies during working memory (WM) processing in individuals with MCI. The effect of task-irrelevant emotional face distractor on WM processing in MCI remains unclear. We aim to explore the impact of fearful-face task-irrelevant distractor on WM processing in MCI using fMRI. Hypothesis. Compared to healthy controls (HC), MCI patients will show significantly higher BOLD signal in a priori identified regions of interest (ROIs) during a WM task with a task-irrelevant emotional face distractor. Methods. 9 right-handed female participants with MCI and 12 matched HC performed a WM task with standardized task-irrelevant fearful versus neutral face distractors randomized and counterbalanced across WM trials. MRI images were acquired during the WM task and BOLD signal was analyzed using statistical parametric mapping (SPM) to identify signal patterns during the task response phase. Results. Task-irrelevant fearful-face distractor resulted in higher activation in the amygdala, anterior cingulate, and frontal areas, in MCI participants compared to HC. Conclusions. This exploratory study suggests altered WM processing as a result of fearful-face distractor in MCI.