Structural Variability within Frontoparietal Networks and Individual Differences in Attentional Functions: An Approach Using the Theory of Visual Attention.
Chechlacz M., Gillebert CR., Vangkilde SA., Petersen A., Humphreys GW.
Visuospatial attention allows us to select and act upon a subset of behaviorally relevant visual stimuli while ignoring distraction. Bundesen's theory of visual attention (TVA) (Bundesen, 1990) offers a quantitative analysis of the different facets of attention within a unitary model and provides a powerful analytic framework for understanding individual differences in attentional functions. Visuospatial attention is contingent upon large networks, distributed across both hemispheres, consisting of several cortical areas interconnected by long-association frontoparietal pathways, including three branches of the superior longitudinal fasciculus (SLF I-III) and the inferior fronto-occipital fasciculus (IFOF). Here we examine whether structural variability within human frontoparietal networks mediates differences in attention abilities as assessed by the TVA. Structural measures were based on spherical deconvolution and tractography-derived indices of tract volume and hindrance-modulated orientational anisotropy (HMOA). Individual differences in visual short-term memory (VSTM) were linked to variability in the microstructure (HMOA) of SLF II, SLF III, and IFOF within the right hemisphere. Moreover, VSTM and speed of information processing were linked to hemispheric lateralization within the IFOF. Differences in spatial bias were mediated by both variability in microstructure and volume of the right SLF II. Our data indicate that the microstructural and macrostrucutral organization of white matter pathways differentially contributes to both the anatomical lateralization of frontoparietal attentional networks and to individual differences in attentional functions. We conclude that individual differences in VSTM capacity, processing speed, and spatial bias, as assessed by TVA, link to variability in structural organization within frontoparietal pathways.