Flexible recruitment of cortical networks in visual and auditory attention
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Our senses, while limited, shape our perception of the world and contribute to the functional architecture of the brain. This dissertation investigates the role of sensory modality and task demands in the cortical organization of healthy human adults using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). This research provides evidence for sensory modality bias in frontal cortical regions by directly contrasting auditory and visual sustained attention. This contrast revealed two distinct visual-biased regions in lateral frontal cortex - superior and inferior precentral sulcus (sPCS, iPCS) - anatomically interleaved with two auditory-biased regions - transverse gyrus intersecting precentral sulcus (tgPCS) and caudal inferior frontal sulcus (cIFS). Intrinsic (resting-state) functional connectivity analysis demonstrated that sPCS and iPCS fall within a broad visual-attention network, while tgPCS and cIFS fall within a broad auditory-attention network. Unisensory (auditory or visual) short-term memory (STM) tasks assessed the flexible recruitment of these sensory-biased cortical regions by varying information domain demands (e.g., spatial, temporal). While both modalities provide spatial and temporal information, vision has greater spatial resolution than audition, and audition has excellent temporal precision relative to vision. A visual temporal, but not a spatial, STM task flexibly recruited frontal auditory-biased regions; conversely, an auditory spatial task more strongly recruited frontal visual-biased regions compared to an auditory temporal task. This flexible recruitment extended to an auditory-biased superior temporal lobe region and to a subset of visual-biased parietal regions. A demanding auditory spatial STM task recruited anterior/superior visuotopic maps (IPS2-4, SPL1) along the intraparietal sulcus, but neither spatial nor temporal auditory tasks recruited posterior/interior maps. Finally, a comparison of visual spatial attention and STM under varied cognitive load demands attempted to further elucidate the organization of posterior parietal cortex. Parietal visuotopic maps were recruited for both visual spatial attention and working memory but demonstrated a graded response to task demands. Posterior/inferior maps (IPS0-1) demonstrated a linear relationship with the number of items attended to or remembered in the visual spatial tasks. Anterior/superior maps (IPS2-4, SPL1) demonstrated a general recruitment in visual spatial cognitive tasks, with a stronger response for visual spatial attention compared to STM.