Attentional dysfunction is among the most consistent observations of autism spectrum disorders (ASD). However, the neural nature of this deficit in ASD is still unclear. In this study, we aimed to identify the neurobehavioral correlates of attentional dysfunction in ASD. We used the Attention Network Test-Revised and functional magnetic resonance imaging to examine alerting, orienting, and executive control functions, as well as the neural substrates underlying these attentional functions in unmedicated, high-functioning adults with ASD (n = 12) and matched healthy controls (HC, n = 12). Compared with HC, individuals with ASD showed increased error rates in alerting and executive control, accompanied by lower activity in the mid-frontal gyrus and the caudate nucleus for alerting, and by the absence of significant functional activation in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) for executive control. In addition, greater behavioral deficiency in executive control in ASD was correlated with less functional activation of the ACC. These findings of behavioral and neural abnormalities in alerting and executive control of attention in ASD may suggest core attentional deficits, which require further investigation.
Alerting; anterior cingulate cortex; attentional networks; autism; executive control
We compared the attention abilities of a group of first-episode schizophrenia (FES) patients and a group of healthy participants using the Attention Network Test (ANT), a standard procedure that estimates the functional state of three neural networks controlling the efficiency of three different attentional behaviors, i.e., alerting (achieving and maintaining a state of high sensitivity to incoming stimuli), orienting (ability to select information from sensory input), and executive attention (mechanisms for resolving conflict among thoughts, feelings, and actions).
We evaluated 22 FES patients from 17 to 29 years of age with a recent history of a single psychotic episode treated only with atypical neuroleptics, and 20 healthy persons matched with FES patients by sex, age, and educational level as the control group. Attention was estimated using the ANT in which participants indicate whether a central horizontal arrow is pointing to the left or the right. The central arrow may be preceded by spatial or temporal cues denoting where and when the arrow will appear, and may be flanked by other arrows (hereafter, flankers) pointing in the same or the opposite direction.
The efficiency of the alerting, orienting, and executive networks was estimated by measuring how reaction time was influenced by congruency between temporal, spatial, and flanker cues. We found that the control group only demonstrated significantly greater attention efficiency than FES patients in the executive attention network.
FES patients are impaired in executive attention but not in alerting or orienting attention, suggesting that executive attention deficit may be a primary impairment during the progression of the disease.
Schizophrenia; First-episode; Attention; ANT; Executive; Cognitive
Attention is impaired in schizophrenia. Early attention components include orienting and alerting, as well as executive control networks. Previous studies have shown mainly executive control deficits, while few of them found orienting and alerting abnormalities. Here we explore the different attentive networks, their modulation and interactions in patients with schizophrenia.
Twenty-one schizophrenic patients (DSMIV), compared to 21 controls, performed a modified version of the Attention Network Task, in which an orienting paradigm (with valid, invalid and no cues) was combined with a flanker task (congruent/incongruent) and an alerting signal (tone/no tone), to assess orienting, executive control and alerting networks independently.
Patients showed an abnormal alerting effect and slower overall reaction time compared to controls. Moreover, there was an interaction between orienting and alerting: patients are helped more than controls by the alerting signal in a valid orientation to solve the incongruent condition.
These results suggest that patients with schizophrenia have altered alerting abilities. However, the orienting and alerting cues interact to improve their attention performance in the resolution of conflict, creating possibilities for cognitive remediation strategies.
Very little is known about attention deficits in developmental dyscalculia, hence, this study was designed to provide the missing information. We examined attention abilities of participants suffering from developmental dyscalculia using the attention networks test - interactions. This test was designed to examine three different attention networks--executive function, orienting and alerting--and the interactions between them.
Fourteen university students that were diagnosed as suffering from developmental dyscalculia--intelligence and reading abilities in the normal range and no indication of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder--and 14 matched controls were tested using the attention networks test - interactions. All participants were given preliminary tests to measure mathematical abilities, reading, attention and intelligence.
The results revealed deficits in the alerting network--a larger alerting effect--and in the executive function networks--a larger congruity effect in developmental dyscalculia participants. The interaction between the alerting and executive function networks was also modulated by group. In addition, developmental dyscalculia participants were slower to respond in the non-cued conditions.
These results imply specific attentional deficits in pure developmental dyscalculia. Namely, those with developmental dyscalculia seem to be deficient in the executive function and alertness networks. They suffer from difficulty in recruiting attention, in addition to the deficits in numerical processing.
Reaction time (RT) and event-related potential (ERP) measures were used to examine the relationships between psychopathic symptoms and three major attention networks (alerting, orienting, and executive attention) among a community sample of youth. Antisocial Process Screening Device (APSD; Frick and Hare 2001) total and subscale scores were negatively correlated with ERP measures of attentional alerting, indicating that youth with psychopathic symptoms had difficulty using warning cues to prepare for upcoming targets. APSD total scores were not related to performance on measures of orienting or executive attention, although weaker executive attention was found among youth with higher scores on the Impulsivity subscale. These findings support attention-based models of psychopathy and provide evidence of specific deficits in attentional alerting among youth with psychopathic traits. Deficiencies in attentional alerting may be related to noradrenergic functioning and may have cascading effects on higher order cognitive and affective processing.
Attention; Psychopathy; Antisocial personality; ANT; Evoked potential
The Attention Network Test (ANT) assesses alerting, orienting, and executive attention. The current study was designed to achieve three main objectives. First, we determined the reliability, effects, and interactions of attention networks in a relatively large cohort of non-demented older adults (n = 184). Second, in the context of this aged cohort, we examined the effect of chronological age on attention networks. Third, the effect of blood pressure on ANT performance was evaluated. Results revealed high-reliability for the ANT as a whole, and for specific cue and flanker types. We found significant main effects for the three attention networks as well as diminished alerting but enhanced orienting effects during conflict resolution trials. Furthermore, increased chronological age and low blood pressure were both associated with significantly worse performance on the executive attention network. These findings are consistent with executive function decline in older adults and the plausible effect of reduced blood flow to the frontal lobes on individual differences in attention demanding tasks.
Aging; Attention; Executive function; Blood pressure; Processing speed
Attentional dysfunction is one of the most consistent findings in individuals with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). However, the significance of such findings for the pathophysiology of autism is unclear. In this study, we investigated cellular neurochemistry with proton magnetic resonance spectroscopy imaging (1H-MRS) in brain regions associated with networks subserving alerting, orienting, and executive control of attention in patients with ASD. Concentrations of cerebral N-acetyl-aspartate (NAA), creatinine + phosphocreatinine, choline-containing compounds, myo-inositol (Ins) and glutamate + glutamine (Glx) were determined by 3 T 1H-MRS examinations in 14 high-functioning medication-free adults with a diagnosis of ASD and 14 age- and IQ-matched healthy controls (HC) in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), thalamus, temporoparietal junction (TPJ), and areas near or along the intraparietal sulcus (IPS). Compared to HC group, the ASD group showed significantly lower Glx concentrations in right ACC and reduced Ins in left TPJ. This study provides evidence of abnormalities in neurotransmission related to networks subserving executive control and alerting of attention, functions which have been previously implicated in ASD pathogenesis.
autism; spectroscopy; glutamate; anterior cingulate cortex; intraparietal sulcus; myo-inositol
Although amnestic mild cognitive impairment (aMCI; often considered a prodromal phase of Alzheimer’s disease, AD) is most recognized by its implications for decline in memory function, research suggests that deficits in attention are present early in aMCI and may be predictive of progression to AD. The present study used functional magnetic resonance imaging to examine differences in the brain during the attention network test between 8 individuals with aMCI and 8 neurologically healthy, demographically matched controls. While there were no significant behavioral differences between groups for the alerting and orienting functions, patients with aMCI showed more activity in neural regions typically associated with the networks subserving these functions (e.g., temporoparietal junction and posterior parietal regions, respectively). More importantly, there were both behavioral (i.e., greater conflict effect) and corresponding neural deficits in executive control (e.g., less activation in the prefrontal and anterior cingulate cortices). Although based on a small number of patients, our findings suggest that deficits of attention, especially the executive control of attention, may significantly contribute to the behavioral and cognitive deficits of aMCI.
The purpose of the current study was to investigate potential genetic and environmental correlations between working memory and three behavioral aspects of the attention network (i.e., executive, alerting, and orienting) using a twin design. Data were from 90 monozygotic (39% male) and 112 same-sex dizygotic (41% male) twins. Individual differences in working memory performance (digit span) and parent-rated measures of executive, alerting, and orienting attention included modest to moderate genetic variance, modest shared environmental variance, and modest to moderate nonshared environmental variance. As hypothesized, working memory performance was correlated with executive and alerting attention, but not orienting attention. The correlation between working memory, executive attention, and alerting attention was completely accounted for by overlapping genetic covariance, suggesting a common genetic mechanism or mechanisms underlying the links between working memory and certain parent-rated indicators of attentive behavior.
Behavioral genetics; Working memory; Parent-rated attention; Middle childhood; Twins
Although previous research has shown that positive affect (PA) and negative affect (NA) modulate attentional functioning in distinct ways, few studies have considered whether the links between affect and attentional functioning may vary as a function of age. Using the Attention Network Test (Fan et al., 2002), we tested whether participants’ current state of PA and NA influenced distinct attentional functions (i.e., alerting, orienting, and executive attention) and how the relationships between affective states and attentional functioning differ in younger (18–25 years) and older (60–85 years) age groups. While there were age differences in alerting efficiency, these age differences were mediated by PA, indicating that the higher state PA found in older adults may contribute to age differences in alerting. Furthermore, age group moderated the relationship between PA and orienting as well as NA and orienting. That is, higher levels of PA and lower levels of NA were associated with enhanced orienting efficiency in older adults. Neither PA nor NA had any influence on executive attention. The current results suggest that PA and NA may influence attentional functioning in distinct ways, but that these patterns may depend on age groups.
affect; age differences; attentional networks; individual differences; attention
Attention deficits belong to the main cognitive symptoms of schizophrenia and come along with altered neural activity in previously described cerebral networks. Given the high heritability of schizophrenia the question arises if impaired function of these networks is modulated by susceptibility genes and detectable in healthy risk allele carriers.
The present event-related fMRI study investigated the effect of the single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) rs1018381 of the DTNBP1 (dystrobrevin-binding protein 1) gene on brain activity in 80 subjects while performing the attention network test (ANT). In this reaction time task three domains of attention are probed simultaneously: alerting, orienting and executive control of attention.
Risk allele carriers showed impaired performance in the executive control condition associated with reduced neural activity in the left superior frontal gyrus [Brodmann area (BA) 9]. Risk allele carriers did not show alterations in the alerting and orienting networks.
BA 9 is a key region of schizophrenia pathology and belongs to a network that has been shown previously to be involved in impaired executive control mechanisms in schizophrenia. Our results identified the impact of DTNBP1 on the development of a specific attention deficit via modulation of a left prefrontal network.
Hemispatial neglect is a debilitating disorder marked by a constellation of spatial and non-spatial attention deficits. Patients’ alertness deficits have shown to interact with lateralized attention processes and correspondingly, improving tonic/general alertness as well as phasic/moment-to-moment alertness has shown to ameliorate spatial bias. However, improvements are often short-lived and inconsistent across tasks and patients. In an attempt to more effectively activate alertness mechanisms by exercising both tonic and phasic alertness, we employed a novel version of a continuous performance task (tonic and phasic alertness training, TAPAT). Using a between-subjects longitudinal design and employing sensitive outcome measures of spatial and non-spatial attention, we compared the effects of 9 days of TAPAT (36 min/day) in a group of patients with chronic neglect (N = 12) with a control group of chronic neglect patients (N = 12) who simply waited during the same training period. Compared to the control group, the group trained on TAPAT significantly improved on both spatial and non-spatial measures of attention with many patients failing to exhibit a lateralized attention bias at the end of training. TAPAT was effective for patients with a range of behavioral profiles and lesions, suggesting that its effectiveness may rely on distributed or lower-level attention mechanisms that are largely intact in patients with neglect. In a follow-up experiment, to determine if TAPAT is more effective in improving spatial attention than an active treatment that directly trains spatial attention, we trained three chronic neglect patients on both TAPAT and search training. In all three patients, TAPAT training was more effective in improving spatial attention than search training suggesting that, in chronic neglect, training alertness is a more effective treatment approach than directly training spatial attention.
attention; visual; rehabilitation; neurological disorders; hemispatial neglect
Consciousness has many aspects. These include awareness of the world, feelings of control over one's behaviour and mental state (volition), and the notion of continuing self. Focal (executive) attention is used to control details of our awareness and is thus closely related to volition. Experiments suggest an integrated network of neural areas involved in executive attention. This network is associated with our voluntary ability to select among competing items, to correct error and to regulate our emotions. Recent neuroimaging studies suggest that these various functions involve separate areas of the anterior cingulate. We have adopted a strategy of using marker tasks, shown to activate the brain area by imaging studies, as a means of tracing the development of attentional networks. Executive attention appears to develop first to regulate distress during the first year of life. During later childhood the ability to regulate conflict among competing stimuli builds upon the earlier cingulate anatomy to provide a means of cognitive control. During childhood the activation of cingulate structures relates both to the child's success on laboratory tasks involving conflict and to parental reports of self-regulation and emotional control. These studies indicate a start in understanding the anatomy, circuitry and development of executive attention networks that serve to regulate both cognition and emotion.
The loss of one sensory modality can lead to a reorganization of the other intact sensory modalities. In the case of individuals who are born profoundly deaf, there is growing evidence of changes in visual functions. Specifically, deaf individuals demonstrate enhanced visual processing in the periphery, and in particular enhanced peripheral visual attention. To further characterize those aspects of visual attention that may be modified by deafness, deaf and hearing individuals were compared on the Attentional Network Test (ANT). The ANT was selected as it provides a measure of the efficiency of three neurally distinct subsystems of visual attention: alerting, orienting and executive control. The alerting measure refers to the efficiency with which a temporal cue is used to direct attention towards a target event, and the orienting measure is an indicator of the efficiency with which a spatial cue focuses attention upon that target’s spatial location. The executive control measure, on the other hand, is an indicator of the amount of interference from peripheral flankers on processing that central target. In two separate experiments, deaf and hearing individuals displayed similar alerting and orienting abilities indicating comparable attention across populations. As predicted by enhanced peripheral attention, deaf subjects were found to have larger flanker interference effects than hearing subjects. These results indicate that not all aspects of visual attention are modified by early deafness, suggesting rather specific effects of cross-modal plasticity.
Attention; Deafness; Peripheral vision; Flanker; Orienting; Attentional Network Test
Individuals diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) exhibit lifelong abnormalities in the adaptive allocation of visual attention. The ubiquitous nature of attentional impairments in ASD has led some authors to hypothesize that atypical attentional modulation may be a factor in the development of higher-level sociocommunicative deficits.
Participants were 20 children with ASD and 20 age- and Nonverbal IQ-matched typically developing (TD) children. We used the Attention Network Test (ANT) to investigate the efficiency and independence of three discrete attentional networks: alerting, orienting, and executive control. Additionally, we sought to investigate the relationship between each attentional network and measures of sociocommunicative symptom severity in children with ASD.
Results indicate that the orienting, but not alerting or executive control, networks may be impaired in children with ASD. In contrast to TD children, correlational analyses suggest that the alerting and executive control networks may not function as independently in children with ASD. Additionally, an association was found between the alerting network and social impairment and between the executive control network and IQ in children with ASD.
The results provide further evidence of an impairment in the visuospatial orienting network in ASD and suggest that there may be greater interdependence of alerting and executive control networks in ASD. Furthermore, decreased ability to efficiently modulate levels of alertness was related to increased sociocommunicative deficits, suggesting that domain-general attentional function may be associated with ASD symptomatology.
Autism; reaction time; visual attention; alerting; orienting; executive control
It is unclear how threat-related attentional biases affect multiple attention systems. This study used a new modification of a reaction time paradigm to examine whether inter-trial task-irrelevant fearful faces influenced the efficiency of alerting, orienting, and executive attention, and whether effects varied with level of state anxiety. Participants, 63 non-disordered adults (17 males and 46 females), reported on their subjective state anxiety and completed a modified version of the Attention Network Test in which fearful or neutral faces or control stimuli were presented briefly (50 ms) between trials of the task, but provided no task-relevant information. Across all participants, state anxiety was positively correlated with alerting, whereas fearful versus neutral faces were linked to decreased alerting efficiency. Contrasting high and low anxiety groups showed that fearful versus neutral faces reduced executive attention in the low state anxiety group only, suggesting decreased distraction by irrelevant stimuli in the high state anxiety group. Results document threat-related attentional biases that varied with attention system but failed to find enhanced bias effects among those with higher state anxiety in a typical range. This modification of the Attention Network Test, which added presentation of emotional distracters, provides a potentially useful new method for assessing the impact of task-irrelevant emotional stimuli on three aspects of attention performance.
threat-related attentional biases; attention systems; state anxiety
We examined the effect of cognitive fatigue on the Attention Networks Test (ANT). Participants were 228 non-demented older adults. Cognitive fatigue was operationally defined as decline in alerting, orienting, and executive attention performance over the course ANT. Anchored in a theoretical model implicating the frontal basal ganglia circuitry as the core substrate of fatigue, we hypothesized that cognitive fatigue would be observed only in executive attention. Consistent with our prediction, significant cognitive fatigue effect was observed in executive attention but not in alerting or orienting. In contrast, orienting improved over the course of the ANT and alerting showed a trend, though insignificant, that was consistent with learning. Cognitive fatigue is conceptualized as an executive failure to maintain and optimize performance over acute but sustained cognitive effort resulting in performance that is lower and more variable than the individual’s optimal ability.
Cognitive Fatigue; Executive Control; Aging; Attention Networks
Both neuropsychological and functional neuroimaging studies have identified that the posterior parietal lobe (PPL) is critical for the attention function. However, the unique role of distinct parietal cortical subregions and their underlying white matter (WM) remains in question. In this study, we collected both magnetic resonance imaging and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) data in normal participants, and evaluated their attention performance using attention network test (ANT), which could isolate three different attention components: alerting, orienting and executive control. Cortical thickness, surface area and DTI parameters were extracted from predefined PPL subregions and correlated with behavioural performance. Tract-based spatial statistics (TBSS) was used for the voxel-wise statistical analysis. Results indicated structure-behaviour relationships on multiple levels. First, a link between the cortical thickness and WM integrity of the right inferior parietal regions and orienting performance was observed. Specifically, probabilistic tractography demonstrated that the integrity of WM connectivity between the bilateral inferior parietal lobules mediated the orienting performance. Second, the scores of executive control were significantly associated with the WM diffusion metrics of the right supramarginal gyrus. Finally, TBSS analysis revealed that alerting performance was significant correlated with the fractional anisotropy of local WM connecting the right thalamus and supplementary motor area. We conclude that distinct areas and features within PPL are associated with different components of attention. These findings could yield a more complete understanding of the nature of the PPL contribution to visuospatial attention.
Visual neglect is a multi-component syndrome including prominent attentional disorders. Research on the functional mechanisms of neglect is now moving from the description of dissociations in patients' performance to the identification of the possible component deficits and of their interaction with compensatory strategies. In recent years, the dissection of attentional deficits in neglect has progressed in parallel with increasing comprehension of the anatomy and function of large-scale brain networks implicated in attentional processes. This review focuses on the anatomy and putative functions of attentional circuits in the brain, mainly subserved by fronto-parietal networks, with a peculiar although not yet completely elucidated role for the right hemisphere. Recent results are discussed concerning the influence of a non-spatial attentional function, phasic alertness, on conscious perception in normal participants and on conflict resolution in neglect patients. The rapid rate of expansion of our knowledge of these systems raises hopes for the development of effective strategies to improve the functioning of the attentional networks in brain-damaged patients.
attention; neglect; consciousness; parietal lobe; frontal lobe
Current efforts to study the genetics of higher functions have been lacking appropriate phenotypes to describe cognition. One of the problems is that many cognitive concepts for which there is a single word (e.g. attention) have been shown to be related to several anatomical networks. Recently we have developed an Attention Network Test (ANT) that provides a separate measure for each of three anatomically defined attention networks. In this small scale study, we ran 26 pairs of MZ and DZ twins in an effort to determine if any of these networks show sufficient evidence of heritability to warrant further exploration of their genetic basis.
The efficiency of the executive attention network, that mediates stimulus and response conflict, shows sufficient heritability to warrant further study. Alerting and overall reaction time show some evidence for heritability and in our study the orienting network shows no evidence of heritability.
These results suggest that genetic variation contributes to normal individual differences in higher order executive attention involving dopamine rich frontal areas including the anterior cingulate. At least the executive portion of the ANT may serve as a valid endophenotype for larger twin studies and subsequent molecular genetic analysis in normal subject populations.
Here, we update our 1990 Annual Review of Neuroscience article, “The Attention System of the Human Brain.” The framework presented in the original article has helped to integrate behavioral, systems, cellular, and molecular approaches to common problems in attention research. Our framework has been both elaborated and expanded in subsequent years. Research on orienting and executive functions has supported the addition of new networks of brain regions. Developmental studies have shown important changes in control systems between infancy and childhood. In some cases, evidence has supported the role of specific genetic variations, often in conjunction with experience, that account for some of the individual differences in the efficiency of attentional networks. The findings have led to increased understanding of aspects of pathology and to some new interventions.
alerting network; executive network; orienting network; cingulo-opercular network; frontoparietal network
Background: Executive control of attention in schizophrenia has recently been assessed by means of the Attention Network Test (ANT). In the past, for tasks assessing executive attention, findings in schizophrenia have been contradictory, among others suggesting a lack of increased stimulus interference effects. Attention and executive functioning are substantially influenced by candidate genes of schizophrenia, including the functional single-nucleotide polymorphism catechol-o-methyltransferase (COMT) Val108/158Met, with task-dependent, specific effects of Met allele load on cognitive function. Therefore, we aimed at investigating executive attention in schizophrenic patients (SZP) as compared with healthy controls (HC), and to assess the specific impact of COMT Val108/158Met on executive attention, using ANT. Methods: We applied ANT to 63 SZP and 40 HC. We calculated a general linear model to investigate the influence of affection status and the COMT Val108/158Met genotype on executive attention as assessed by the ANT. Results: Multivariate analysis of variance revealed a significant effect of group on executive attention. SZP exhibited smaller conflict effects in the ANT. Met allele load significantly modulated executive attention efficiency, with homozygous Met individuals showing low overall reaction time but increased effects conflicting stimulus information in executive attention. Conclusions: Our data suggest a disease-related dissociation of executive attention with reduced conflict effects in SZP. Furthermore, they support the hypothesis of differential tonic-phasic dopamine activation and specific dopamine level effects in different cognitive tasks, which helps interpreting contradictory findings of Met allele load on cognitive performance. Disease status seems to modulate the impact of COMT Val108/158Met on cognitive performance.
schizophrenia; endophenotype; genetics; attention; dopamine
Although the healthy adult possesses a large repertoire of coordinative strategies for oromotor behaviors, a range of nonverbal, speech-like movements can be observed during speech. The extent of overlap among sensorimotor speech and nonspeech neural correlates and the role of neuromodulatory inputs generated during oromotor behaviors are unknown. The focus of this review is to consider the adaptive capacity of the orofacial substrate, and the neural correlates of kinematic parameter encoding at cortical and subcortical levels subserving oromotor behaviors. Special emphasis is directed toward distributed neural networks that are dynamically modulated by environment and task related demands.
Learning outcomes: Readers will (1) gain a better understanding of healthy adult orofacial pathways, (2) be able to identify orofacial pathway components that contribute to sensorimotor integration, and (3) better understand the flexible connectivity among distributed neural networks subserving oromotor behavior.
Corticobulbar system; neural encoding; sensorimotor control; speech kinematics
Ishigami and Klein (2010) showed that scores of the three attention networks (alerting, orienting, and executive control) measured with the two versions of the Attention Network Test (ANT; Fan et al., 2002; Callejas et al., 2005) were robust over 10 sessions of repeated testing even though practice effects were consistently observed especially in the executive network when young adults were tested. The current study replicated their method to examine robustness, stability, reliability, and isolability of the networks scores when older adults were tested with these ANTs. Ten test sessions, each containing two versions of the ANT, were administered to 10 older adults. Participants were asked to indicate the direction of a target arrow, flanked by distractors, presented either above or below the fixation following auditory signals or/and visual cue. Network scores were calculated using orthogonal subtractions of performance in selected conditions. All network scores remained highly significant even after nine previous sessions despite some practice effects in the executive and the alerting networks. Some lack of independence among the networks was found. The relatively poor reliability of network scores with one session of data rises to respectable levels as more data is added.
attention; alerting; orienting; executive control; older adults; attention network test; aging
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is characterized by an excessive focus on upsetting or disturbing thoughts, feelings, and images that are internally-generated. Internally-focused thought processes are subserved by the “default mode network" (DMN), which has been found to be hyperactive in OCD during cognitive tasks. In healthy individuals, disengagement from internally-focused thought processes may rely on interactions between DMN and a fronto-parietal network (FPN) associated with external attention and task execution. Altered connectivity between FPN and DMN may contribute to the dysfunctional behavior and brain activity found in OCD.
The current study examined interactions between FPN and DMN during rest in 30 patients with OCD (17 unmedicated) and 32 control subjects (17 unmedicated). Timecourses from seven fronto-parietal seeds were correlated across the whole brain and compared between groups.
OCD patients exhibited altered connectivity between FPN seeds (primarily anterior insula) and several regions of DMN including posterior cingulate cortex, medial frontal cortex, posterior inferior parietal lobule, and parahippocampus. These differences were driven largely by a reduction of negative correlations among patients compared to controls. Patients also showed greater positive connectivity between FPN and regions outside DMN, including thalamus, lateral frontal cortex, and somatosensory/motor regions.
OCD is associated with abnormal intrinsic functional connectivity between large-scale brain networks. Alteration of interactions between FPN and DMN at rest may contribute to aspects of the OCD phenotype, such as patients' inability to disengage from internally-generated scenarios and thoughts when performing everyday tasks requiring external attention.