Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Brain regions 'tune' activity to enable attention

The brain appears to synchronize the activity of different brain regions to make it possible for a person to pay attention or concentrate on a task, scientists at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis have learned.

Researchers think the process, roughly akin to tuning multiple walkie-talkies to the same frequency, may help establish clear channels for communication between brain areas that detect sensory stimuli.

"We think the brain not only puts regions that facilitate attention on alert but also makes sure those regions have open lines for calling each other," said first author Amy Daitch, a graduate student researcher.

The results are available in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

People who suffer from brain injuries or strokes often have problems paying attention and concentrating.

"Attention deficits in brain injury have been thought of as a loss of the resources needed to concentrate on a task," said senior author Maurizio Corbetta, MD, the Norman J. Stupp Professor of Neurology. "However, this study shows that temporal alignment of responses in different brain areas is also a very important mechanism that contributes to attention and could be impaired by brain injury."

Attention lets people ignore irrelevant sensory stimuli, like a driver disregarding a ringing cell phone, and pay attention to important stimuli, like a deer stepping onto the road in front of the car.

To analyze brain changes linked to attention, the scientists used grids of electrodes temporarily implanted onto the brains of patients with epilepsy. Co-senior author Eric Leuthardt, MD, associate professor of neurosurgery and bioengineering, uses the grids to map for surgical removal of brain tissues that contribute to uncontrollable seizures.

With patient permission, the grids also can allow Leuthardt's lab to study human brain activity at a level of detail unavailable via any other method. Normally, Corbetta and his colleagues investigate attention using various forms of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which can detect changes in brain activity that occur every 2 to 3 seconds. But with the grids in place, Corbetta and Leuthardt can study the changes that occur in milliseconds.

Before grid implantation, the scientists scanned the brains of seven epilepsy patients, using MRI to map regions known to contribute to attention. With the grids in place, the researchers monitored brain cells as the patients watched for visual targets, directing their attention to different locations on a computer screen without moving their eyes. When patients saw the targets, they pressed a button to let the scientists know they had seen them.

"We analyzed brain oscillations that reflect fluctuations in excitability of a local brain region; in other words, how difficult or easy it is for a neuron to respond to an input," Daitch said. "If areas of the brain involved in detecting a stimulus are at maximum excitability, you would be much more likely to notice the stimulus."

Excitability regularly rises and falls in the cells that make up a given brain region. But these oscillations normally are not aligned between different brain regions.

The researchers' results showed that as patients directed their attention, the brain regions most important for paying attention to visual stimuli adjusted their excitability cycles, causing them to start hitting the peaks of their cycles at the same time. In regions not involved in attention, the excitability cycles did not change.

"If the cycles of two brain regions are out of alignment, the chances that a signal from one region will get through to another region are reduced," Corbetta said.

Daitch, Corbetta and Leuthardt are investigating whether knowing not just the location, but also the tempo of the task, allows participants to bring the excitability of their brain regions into alignment more rapidly.

Funding from the James S. McDonnell Foundation, the Doris Duke Foundation, the National Institute of Mental Health (R01 MH 71920-09), the National Institute of Health (NIH) (5T32EY013360-10) and the National Science Foundation (NSF EFRI-1137211) supported this research.

Daitch AL, Sharma M, Roland JL, Astafiev SV, Bundy DT, Gaona CM, Snyder AZ, Shulman GL, Leuthardt EC, Corbetta M. Frequency-specific mechanism links human brain networks for spatial attention. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Nov. 26, 2013.

Washington University School of Medicine's 2,100 employed and volunteer faculty physicians also are the medical staff of Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children's hospitals. The School of Medicine is one of the leading medical research, teaching and patient-care institutions in the nation, currently ranked sixth in the nation by U.S. News & World Report. Through its affiliations with Barnes-Jewish and St. Louis Children's hospitals, the School of Medicine is linked to BJC HealthCare.

Michael C. Purdy | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Health and Medicine:

nachricht ARTORG and Inselspital develop artificial pancreas
26.11.2015 | Universitätsspital Bern

nachricht Laboratory study: Scientists from Cologne explore a new approach to prevent newborn epilepsies
24.11.2015 | Deutsches Zentrum für Neurodegenerative Erkrankungen e.V. (DZNE)

All articles from Health and Medicine >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Climate study finds evidence of global shift in the 1980s

Planet Earth experienced a global climate shift in the late 1980s on an unprecedented scale, fuelled by anthropogenic warming and a volcanic eruption, according to new research published this week.

Scientists say that a major step change, or ‘regime shift’, in the Earth’s biophysical systems, from the upper atmosphere to the depths of the ocean and from...

Im Focus: Innovative Photovoltaics – from the Lab to the Façade

Fraunhofer ISE Demonstrates New Cell and Module Technologies on its Outer Building Façade

The Fraunhofer Institute for Solar Energy Systems ISE has installed 70 photovoltaic modules on the outer façade of one of its lab buildings. The modules were...

Im Focus: Lactate for Brain Energy

Nerve cells cover their high energy demand with glucose and lactate. Scientists of the University of Zurich now provide new support for this. They show for the first time in the intact mouse brain evidence for an exchange of lactate between different brain cells. With this study they were able to confirm a 20-year old hypothesis.

In comparison to other organs, the human brain has the highest energy requirements. The supply of energy for nerve cells and the particular role of lactic acid...

Im Focus: Laser process simulation available as app for first time

In laser material processing, the simulation of processes has made great strides over the past few years. Today, the software can predict relatively well what will happen on the workpiece. Unfortunately, it is also highly complex and requires a lot of computing time. Thanks to clever simplification, experts from Fraunhofer ILT are now able to offer the first-ever simulation software that calculates processes in real time and also runs on tablet computers and smartphones. The fast software enables users to do without expensive experiments and to find optimum process parameters even more effectively.

Before now, the reliable simulation of laser processes was a job for experts. Armed with sophisticated software packages and after many hours on computer...

Im Focus: Quantum Simulation: A Better Understanding of Magnetism

Heidelberg physicists use ultracold atoms to imitate the behaviour of electrons in a solid

Researchers at Heidelberg University have devised a new way to study the phenomenon of magnetism. Using ultracold atoms at near absolute zero, they prepared a...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

Fraunhofer’s Urban Futures Conference: 2 days in the city of the future

25.11.2015 | Event News

Gluten oder nicht Gluten? Überempfindlichkeit auf Weizen kann unterschiedliche Ursachen haben

17.11.2015 | Event News

Art Collection Deutsche Börse zeigt Ausstellung „Traces of Disorder“

21.10.2015 | Event News

Latest News

Siemens to supply 126 megawatts to onshore wind power plants in Scotland

27.11.2015 | Press release

Two decades of training students and experts in tracking infectious disease

27.11.2015 | Life Sciences

Coming to a monitor near you: A defect-free, molecule-thick film

27.11.2015 | Materials Sciences

More VideoLinks >>>