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Training of Goal-Directed Attention Regulation Enhances Control Over Neural Processing for Individuals With Brain Injury

Figure 1 - Representative structural MRI images from participants with visible structural brain lesions.

Brain: A Journal of Neurology

Anthony J-W Chen, Tatijana Novakovic-Agopian, Terrence Nycum, Shawn Song, Gary R. Turner, Nancy K. Hills, Scott Rome, Gary M. Abrams and Mark D'Esposito

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Deficits in attention and executive control are common, debilitating and persistent effects of brain injuries, and researchers seek to better understand the neural mechanisms behind these processes. This study utilized twelve individuals who had experienced brain injury and explored participants’ improvements in executive control throughout rehabilitation training.Researchers hypothesized that intensive training enhances modulatory control of neural processing of perceptual information in participants with acquired brain injuries. To test this, they split participants into two groups: standardized training and a comparison condition. The standardized training involved goal-directed functioning – including principles highlighting attention, mindfulness, and problem-solving – while the comparison participants completed only brief training. Data was gathered using fMRI methods adapted for measuring modulatory control of neural processing. Results from the goal-directed training group demonstrated that neural processing in the extrastriate cortex was significantly enhanced by attention regulation training. Neural changes in the prefrontal cortex, a candidate mediator for attention regulation, appeared to depend on an individual’s baseline state. These neural and behavioral changes were not observed with the comparison condition. Findings suggest enhanced modulatory control over visual processing and a rebalancing of prefrontal functioning may underlie improvements in attention and executive control.

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Mark D’Esposito, MD

Carol Heller BrainHealth Project Co-Leader

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