Dorsolateral prefrontal cortex volume as a mediator between socioeconomic status and executive function.

Objective: Lower socioeconomic status (SES) is related to poorer cognitive performance, but the neural underpinnings of this relation are not fully understood. This study examined whether SES-linked decrements in executive function were mediated by smaller dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) volumes. Given the literature demonstrating that SES-brain relations differ by race, we examined whether race moderated these mediations. Method: Participants were 190 socioeconomically diverse, self-identified African American (AA) and White adults from the Healthy Aging in Neighborhoods of Diversity across the Life Span (HANDLS) SCAN study. Regional brain volumes were derived using T1-weighted MP-RAGE images. Adjusting for age and sex, moderated mediation analyses examined if the DLPFC mediated SES-executive function relations differently across racial groups. Executive function was measured using Trail Making Test part B (Trails B), Digit Span Backwards (DSB), and verbal fluency. Results: Moderated mediation demonstrated that DLPFC volume significantly mediated the association between SES and Trails B in Whites (lower confidence interval [CI] = 0.01; upper CI = 0.07), but not in AAs (lower CI = −0.05; upper CI = 0.01). No mediations were found for DSB or verbal fluency, although SES was related to all tests. Conclusion: The DLPFC may be important in the association of SES and mental flexibility for White, but not AA adults. It is possible that the well-replicated advantages of high SES among Whites do not readily translate, on average, to AAs. These findings highlight the importance of brain volume for cognitive functioning, while adding to the literature on sociodemographic health disparities. (PsycINFO Database Record (c) 2018 APA, all rights reserved)