Research highlight

A brain-based marker for sustained attention

Nature Neuroscience

November 24, 2015

The strength of particular brain networks in healthy adults can predict an individual’s ability to maintain attention, reports a study published online this week in Nature Neuroscience. Network models developed from these patterns of brain connectivity are also shown to predict attention deficits in children and adolescents.

Although ability for some mental processes, such as quick reasoning and working memory, can be reliably measured, a standardized measure for attention has been more elusive. Monica Rosenberg and colleagues used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to identify a brain-based measure of sustained attention-the ability to maintain focus on a demanding task. The authors first recorded the brain activity of 25 participants (12 male, 13 female, aged 18-32 years) as they rested or performed a task that required continuous focus. After modeling the relationship between the strength of brain network connectivity and task performance, they found that their models could predict attentional ability in participants whose data had not been used to build the models, regardless of whether network strength was based on task-related or resting-state connectivity.

Analyzing data from a separate group of 113 children and adolescents (ages 8-16) with or without attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), the authors found that these models of network strength also predicted the severity of attentional deficit measured by a clinical ADHD rating scale.

The authors note that their approach highlights the possibility of discovering brain-based markers that could predict other cognitive abilities and clinical symptoms.

doi: 10.1038/nn.4179

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