What is the role of attention in sensory processing? One approach to this question is to examine effects of attention on cortical activation patterns, and ask: when performing a sensory discrimination task, how does attention affect the cortical areas that participate in the task? This Friday at Sensorimotor Journal Club, Becky Webster will present a study where this approach was used to examine the effect of attention in somatosensation:


Burton, H., Sinclair, R. J., & McLaren, D. G. (2008). Cortical network for vibrotactile attention: A fmri study. Human Brain Mapping, 29(2), 207-221. (link to pdf of article)


We used fMRI to identify brain areas activated during tactile attention tasks. Participants detected the interval containing target stimulation of higher vibrotactile frequency or longer duration. Attributes were selectively or neutrally cued. A control backwards-counting task included concurrent, but irrelevant corresponding vibrotactile stimulation. Group analyses of average F-statistic maps, participant conjunction maps, and estimated time courses utilized data mapped to a standard average surface atlas (PALS B12). Repeated-measures, random-effects MANOVA examined blood oxygenation level-dependent (BOLD) signal modulation differences amongst tasks in defined regions, where significant responses occurred in at least 50% of the group. Greater than 0.1% increase in BOLD responses were found during at least one of the tactile attention tasks in contralateral parietal opercular OP1, BA 4 finger region, frontal eye field, dorsal premotor, anterior and posterior BA 7, and bilaterally in superior temporal sulcal cortex (BA 22), ventral premotor, supplementary motor area, and frontal operculum/insula. The same tasks suppressed activity in ipsilateral OP4. The BA 22 ROI showed larger responses during neutral cuing. The control task suppressed BOLD in ipsilateral OP1 and OP4 and bilaterally in BA 40, but significantly enhanced responses in dorsal parietal-frontal regions compared with tactile attention tasks. No regional differences were found between selectively cued frequency and duration tasks. Tactile attention effects were most prominent in OP1. Posterior parietal responses possibly reflected the visual attention required for backwards-counting, whereas the frontal regions potentially related to goal-directed behavior when identifying target stimulation.