Cerebral correlates of alerting, orienting and reorienting of visuospatial attention: an event-related fMRI study

Christiane M Thiel, Karl Zilles, Gereon R Fink
NeuroImage 2004, 21 (1): 318-28
The identification of brain systems contributing to different aspects of visuospatial attention is of both clinical and theoretical interest. Cued target detection tasks provide a simple means to dissociate attentional subcomponents, such as alerting, orienting or reorienting of attention. Event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was used to study neural correlates of these distinct attentional processes. Volunteers were scanned while performing a centrally cued target detection task. Four different types of trials (no cue, neutral cue, valid cue and invalid cue trials) with targets appearing either in the right or left hemifield were randomly intermixed. Behaviourally, the data provided evidence for alerting, spatial orienting and reorienting of attention. Neurally, the alerting effect was seen in bilaterally increased extrastriatal blood oxygenation level-dependent (BOLD) activity in neutral as compared to no cue trials. Neural correlates of spatial orienting were seen in anterior cingulate cortex, which was more active during valid as compared to neutral cue trials. Neural correlates of reorienting of attention, that is, higher BOLD activity to invalid as compared to validly cued trials were evident in several brain regions including left and right intraparietal sulcus, right temporo-parietal junction and middle frontal gyrus bilaterally. The data suggest that frontal and parietal regions are specifically involved in reorienting rather than orienting attention to a spatial position. Alerting effects were seen in extrastriate regions which suggest that increased phasic alertness results in a top-down modulation of neural activity in visual processing areas.

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