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The ascending arousal system promotes optimal performance through meso-scale network integration in a visuospatial attentional task

By Gabriel Wainstein, Daniel Rojas-Libano, Vicente Medel, Dag Alnaes, Knut Kolskar, Tor Endestad, Bruno Laeng, Tomás Ossandón, Nicolás Crossley, Elie Matar, James Shine

Posted 06 Dec 2020
bioRxiv DOI: 10.1101/2020.12.04.412551

Previous research has shown that the autonomic nervous system provides essential constraints over ongoing cognitive function. However, there is currently a relative lack of direct empirical evidence for how this interaction manifests in the brain at the macro-scale level. Here, we examine the role of ascending arousal and attentional load on large-scale network dynamics by combining pupillometry, functional MRI and graph theoretical analysis to analyze data from a visual motion-tracking task with a parametric load manipulation. We found that attentional load effects were observable in measures of pupil diameter and in a set of brain regions that parametrically modulated their BOLD activity and meso-scale network-level integration. In addition, the regional patterns of network reconfiguration were correlated with the spatial distribution of the 2a adrenergic receptor. Our results further solidify the relationship between ascending noradrenergic activity, large-scale network integration, and cognitive task performance.

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