Objective Convergent evidence indicates that apathy affects cognitive behavior in different neurological and psychiatric conditions. Studies of clinical populations have also suggested the primary involvement of the prefrontal cortex and the basal ganglia in apathy. These brain regions are interconnected at both the structural and functional levels and are deeply involved in cognitive processes, such as working memory and attention. However, it is unclear how apathy modulates brain processing during cognition and whether such a modulation occurs in healthy young subjects. To address this issue, we investigated the link between apathy and prefrontal and basal ganglia function in healthy young individuals. We hypothesized that apathy may be related to sub-optimal activity and connectivity in these brain regions. Methods Three hundred eleven healthy subjects completed an apathy assessment using the Starkstein's Apathy Scale and underwent fMRI during working memory and attentional performance tasks. Using an ROI approach, we investigated the association of apathy with activity and connectivity in the DLPFC and the basal ganglia.Results Apathy scores correlated positively with prefrontal activity and negatively with prefrontalbasal ganglia connectivity during both working memory and attention tasks. Furthermore, prefrontal activity was inversely related to attentional behavior. Conclusions These results suggest that in healthy young subjects, apathy is a trait associated with inefficient cognitive-related prefrontal activity, i.e., it increases the need for prefrontal resources to process cognitive stimuli. Furthermore, apathy may alter the functional relationship between the prefrontal cortex and the basal ganglia during cognition.
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