Role of the anterior insular cortex in integrative causal signaling during multisensory auditory–visual attention

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Abstract

Coordinated attention to information from multiple senses is fundamental to our ability to respond to salient environmental events, yet little is known about brain network mechanisms that guide integration of information from multiple senses. Here we investigate dynamic causal mechanisms underlying multisensory auditory–visual attention, focusing on a network of right-hemisphere frontal–cingulate–parietal regions implicated in a wide range of tasks involving attention and cognitive control. Participants performed three ‘oddball’ attention tasks involving auditory, visual and multisensory auditory–visual stimuli during fMRI scanning. We found that the right anterior insula (rAI) demonstrated the most significant causal influences on all other frontal–cingulate–parietal regions, serving as a major causal control hub during multisensory attention. Crucially, we then tested two competing models of the role of the rAI in multisensory attention: an ‘integrated’ signaling model in which the rAI generates a common multisensory control signal associated with simultaneous attention to auditory and visual oddball stimuli versus a ‘segregated’ signaling model in which the rAI generates two segregated and independent signals in each sensory modality. We found strong support for the integrated, rather than the segregated, signaling model. Furthermore, the strength of the integrated control signal from the rAI was most pronounced on the dorsal anterior cingulate and posterior parietal cortices, two key nodes of saliency and central executive networks respectively. These results were preserved with the addition of a superior temporal sulcus region involved in multisensory processing. Our study provides new insights into the dynamic causal mechanisms by which the AI facilitates multisensory attention.

In this study we investigate dynamic causal mechanisms underlying multisensory auditory-visual attention, focusing on a network of right-hemisphere fronto-cingulo-parietal regions. We found that the right anterior insula (rAI) serves as a major causal control hub during multisensory attention. rAI integrates attention related signals from multiple sensory modalities and generates a common multisensory control signal.

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