Functional modular architecture underlying attentional control in aging.


Previous research suggests that age-related differences in attention reflect the interaction of top-down and bottom-up processes, but the cognitive and neural mechanisms underlying this interaction remain an active area of research. Here, within a sample of community-dwelling adults 19-78 years of age, we used diffusion reaction time (RT) modeling and multivariate functional connectivity to investigate the behavioral components and whole-brain functional networks, respectively, underlying bottom-up and top-down attentional processes during conjunction visual search. During functional MRI scanning, participants completed a conjunction visual search task in which each display contained one item that was larger than the other items (i.e., a size singleton) but was not informative regarding target identity. This design allowed us to examine in the RT components and functional network measures the influence of (a) additional bottom-up guidance when the target served as the size singleton, relative to when the distractor served as the size singleton (i.e., size singleton effect) and (b) top-down processes during target detection (i.e., target detection effect; target present vs. absent trials). We found that the size singleton effect (i.e., increased bottom-up guidance) was associated with RT components related to decision and nondecision processes, but these effects did not vary with age. Also, a modularity analysis revealed that frontoparietal module connectivity was important for both the size singleton and target detection effects, but this module became central to the networks through different mechanisms for each effect. Lastly, participants 42 years of age and older, in service of the target detection effect, relied more on between-frontoparietal module connections. Our results further elucidate mechanisms through which frontoparietal regions support attentional control and how these mechanisms vary in relation to adult age.





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Publication Info

Monge, Zachary A, Benjamin R Geib, Rachel E Siciliano, Lauren E Packard, Catherine W Tallman and David J Madden (2017). Functional modular architecture underlying attentional control in aging. NeuroImage, 155. pp. 257–270. 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2017.05.002 Retrieved from

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David Joseph Madden

Professor in Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences

My research focuses primarily on the cognitive neuroscience of aging: the investigation of age-related changes in perception, attention, and memory, using both behavioral measures and neuroimaging techniques, including positron emission tomography (PET), functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI).

The behavioral measures have focused on reaction time, with the goal of distinguishing age-related changes in specific cognitive abilities from more general effects arising from a slowing in elementary perceptual processes. The cognitive abilities of interest include selective attention as measured in visual search tasks, semantic and episodic memory retrieval, and executive control processes.

The behavioral measures are necessary to define the cognitive abilities of interest, and the neuroimaging techniques help define the functional neuroanatomy of those abilities. The PET and fMRI measures provide information regarding neural activity during cognitive performance. DTI is a recently developed technique that images the structural integrity of white matter. The white matter tracts of the brain provide critical pathways linking the gray matter regions, and thus this work will complement the studies using PET and fMRI that focus on gray matter activation.

A current focus of the research program is the functional connectivity among regions, not only during cognitive task performance but also during rest. These latter measures, referred to as intrinsic functional connectivity, are beginning to show promise as an index of overall brain functional efficiency, which can be assessed without the implementation of a specific cognitive task. From DTI, information can be obtained regarding how anatomical connectivity constrains intrinsic functional connectivity. It will be important to determine the relative influence of white matter pathway integrity, intrinsic functional connectivity, and task-related functional connectivity, as mediators of age-related differences in behavioral measures of cognitive performance.

Ultimately, the research program can help link age-related changes in cognitive performance to changes in the structure and function of specific neural systems. The results also have implications for clinical translation, in terms of the identification of neural biomarkers for the diagnosis of neural pathology and targeting rehabilitation procedures.

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