A functional connectivity-based neuromarker of sustained attention generalizes to predict recall in a reading task

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Abstract

Sustaining attention to the task at hand is a crucial part of everyday life, from following a lecture at school to maintaining focus while driving. Lapses in sustained attention are frequent and often problematic, with conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder affecting millions of people worldwide. Recent work has had some success in finding signatures of sustained attention in whole-brain functional connectivity (FC) measures during basic tasks, but since FC can be dynamic and task-dependent, it remains unclear how fully these signatures would generalize to a more complex and naturalistic scenario. To this end, we used a previously defined whole-brain FC network – a marker of attention that was derived from a sustained attention task – to predict the ability of participants to recall material during a free-viewing reading task. Though the predictive network was trained on a different task and set of participants, the strength of FC in the sustained attention network predicted reading recall significantly better than permutation tests where behavior was scrambled to simulate chance performance. To test the generalization of the method used to derive the sustained attention network, we applied the same method to our reading task data to find a new FC network whose strength specifically predicts reading recall. Even though the sustained attention network provided significant prediction of recall, the reading network was more predictive of recall accuracy. The new reading network's spatial distribution indicates that reading recall is highest when temporal pole regions have higher FC with left occipital regions and lower FC with bilateral supramarginal gyrus. Right cerebellar to right frontal connectivity is also indicative of poor reading recall. We examine these and other differences between the two predictive FC networks, providing new insight into the task-dependent nature of FC-based performance metrics.

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