Dynamic Brain Network Correlates of Spontaneous Fluctuations in Attention


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Abstract

Human attention is intrinsically dynamic, with focus continuously shifting between elements of the external world and internal, self-generated thoughts. Communication within and between large-scale brain networks also fluctuates spontaneously from moment to moment. However, the behavioral relevance of dynamic functional connectivity and possible link with attentional state shifts is unknown. We used a unique approach to examine whether brain network dynamics reflect spontaneous fluctuations in moment-to-moment behavioral variability, a sensitive marker of attentional state. Nineteen healthy adults were instructed to tap their finger every 600 ms while undergoing fMRI. This novel, but simple, approach allowed us to isolate moment-to-moment fluctuations in behavioral variability related to attention, independent of common confounds in cognitive tasks (e.g., stimulus changes, response inhibition). Spontaneously increasing tap variance (“out-of-the-zone” attention) was associated with increasing activation in dorsal-attention and salience network regions, whereas decreasing tap variance (“in-the-zone” attention) was marked by increasing activation of default mode network (DMN) regions. Independent of activation, tap variance representing out-of-the-zone attention was also time-locked to connectivity both within DMN and between DMN and salience network regions. These results provide novel mechanistic data on the understudied neural dynamics of everyday, moment-to-moment attentional fluctuations, elucidating the behavioral importance of spontaneous, transient coupling within and between attention-relevant networks.

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