Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Hippocampal activity during the transverse patterning task declines with cognitive competence but not with age

Vera M Leirer1*, Christian Wienbruch1, Isabella Paul-Jordanov12, Stephan Kolassa3, Thomas Elbert1 and Iris T Kolassa12

Author Affiliations

1 Clinical Psychology & Neuropsychology, University of Konstanz, Universitätsstr. 10, 78457 Konstanz, Germany

2 Zukunftskolleg, University of Konstanz, Box X 916, 78457 Konstanz, Germany

3 Research & Innovation, SAF Simulation, Analysis & Forecasting AG, Bahnstr. 1, 8274 Tägerwilen, Switzerland

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BMC Neuroscience 2010, 11:113  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-11-113

Published: 8 September 2010



The hippocampus is a brain region that is particularly affected by age-related morphological changes. It is generally assumed that a loss in hippocampal volume results in functional deficits that contribute to age-related cognitive decline. In a combined cross-sectional behavioural and magnetoencephalography (MEG) study we investigated whether hippocampal-associated neural current flow during a transverse patterning task - which requires learning relational associations between stimuli - correlates with age and whether it is modulated by cognitive competence.


Better performance in several tests of verbal memory, verbal fluency and executive function was indeed associated with higher hippocampal neural activity. Age, however, was not related to the strength of hippocampal neural activity: elderly participants responded slower than younger individuals but on average produced the same neural mass activity.


Our results suggest that in non-pathological aging, hippocampal neural activity does not decrease with age but is rather related to cognitive competence.