Effective connectivity of ascending and descending frontalthalamic pathways during sustained attention: Complex brain network interactions in adolescence

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Abstract

Frontal–thalamic interactions are crucial for bottom-up gating and top-down control, yet have not been well studied from brain network perspectives. We applied network modeling of fMRI signals [dynamic causal modeling (DCM)] to investigate frontal–thalamic interactions during an attention task with parametrically varying levels of demand. fMRI was collected while subjects participated in a sustained continuous performance task with low and high attention demands. 162 competing model architectures were employed in DCM to evaluate hypotheses on bilateral frontal–thalamic connections and their modulation by attention demand, selected at a second level using Bayesian model selection. The model architecture evinced significant contextual modulation by attention of ascending (thalamus → dPFC) and descending (dPFC → thalamus) pathways. However, modulation of these pathways was asymmetric: while positive modulation of the ascending pathway was comparable across attention demand, modulation of the descending pathway was significantly greater when attention demands were increased. Increased modulation of the (dPFC → thalamus) pathway in response to increased attention demand constitutes novel evidence of attention-related gain in the connectivity of the descending attention pathway. By comparison demand-independent modulation of the ascending (thalamus → dPFC) pathway suggests unbiased thalamic inputs to the cortex in the context of the paradigm. Hum Brain Mapp 37:2557–2570, 2016. © 2016 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.

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