The pulse: transient fMRI signal increases in subcortical arousal systems during transitions in attention.

Published in NeuroImage, 2021

Recommended citation: Rong Li, Jun Hwan Ryu, Peter Vincent, Max Springer, Dan Kluger, Erik A. Levinsohn, Yu Chen, Huafu Chen and Hal Blumenfeld. (2021). "The pulse: transient fMRI signal increases in subcortical arousal systems during transitions in attention." Neuroimage, in press.

Studies of attention emphasize cortical circuits for salience monitoring and top-down control. However, subcorti- cal arousal systems have a major influence on dynamic cortical state. We hypothesize that task-related increases in attention begin with a “pulse” in subcortical arousal and cortical attention networks, which are reflected indi- rectly through transient fMRI signals. We conducted general linear model and model-free analyses of fMRI data from two cohorts and tasks with mixed block and event-related design. 46 adolescent subjects at our center and 362 normal adults from the Human Connectome Project participated. We identified a core shared network of transient fMRI increases in subcortical arousal and cortical salience/attention networks across cohorts and tasks. Specifically, we observed a transient pulse of fMRI increases both at task block onset and with individual task events in subcortical arousal areas including midbrain tegmentum, thalamus, nucleus basalis and striatum; corti- cal-subcortical salience network regions including the anterior insula/claustrum and anterior cingulate cortex/ supplementary motor area; in dorsal attention network regions including dorsolateral frontal cortex and inferior parietal lobule; as well as in motor regions including cerebellum, and left hemisphere hand primary motor cor- tex. The transient pulse of fMRI increases in subcortical and cortical arousal and attention networks was consis- tent across tasks and study populations, whereas sustained activity in these same networks was more variable. The function of the transient pulse in these networks is unknown. However, given its anatomical distribution, it could participate in a neuromodulatory surge of activity in multiple parallel neurotransmitter systems facilitating dynamic changes in conscious attention.

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