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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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Due to the fact that deficits in attention and executive control are some of the most common, debilitating, and persistent effects of brain injuries, researchers are motivated to better understand the neural mechanisms behind these processes. This study utilized twelve individuals that had experienced brain injury, and it explored participants’ improvements in executive control throughout their 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 the participants into either a standardized training or a comparison condition. The standardized training involved goal-directed functioning – which involved 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. Evidence from this study suggests that 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

Distinguished BrainHealth Scientist Collaborator, The BrainHealth Project