Attention disorders: IISc team studies ‘how brain regions contribute to attention’ – Times of India


BENGALURU: A team led by Professor Sridharan Devarajan, who is studying the regions of the brain and the mechanisms involved in human attention in order to develop therapies to treat attention disorders, in his recent work has identified how certain regions of the brain, both in the neocortex (the outermost layer of the brain) as well as in the deeper midbrain – contributes to attention.
Devarajan is currently an associate professor at the Center for neuroscience and Associate Professor in Computer Science and Automation at IISc. His group has shown that human participants with asymmetric wiring between the midbrain and cortical hemispheres also show marked asymmetries in the way they pay attention.
Devarajan, winner of the Department of Science and Technology (DST) Swarnajayanti Scholarship for 2021, says the human brain has the remarkable ability to pay attention to important objects and locations in our world while ignoring irrelevant ones.
Although attention has been studied behaviorally for many decades, there is very little understanding of how attention works in the brain. “…Uncharted territories include the identification of brain regions that allow us to maintain attention on particular objects, brain regions that suppress irrelevant information, and brain processes that are disrupted in attention disorders,” the researchers say.
The group, DST said, is employing combinations of cutting-edge noninvasive technologies, including functional and Diffusion of Magnetic Resonance Images (fMRI/dMRI), Electro-encephalography (EEG), Y Transmagnetic and electrical stimulation (TMS/TES) — to specifically record and disrupt human brain activity.
In his recent work, Devarajan has identified how particular brain regions, both in the neocortex (the outermost layer of the brain) and the deeper midbrain, contribute to attention. In another recent study, DST said, the group has shown that disruptive activity in a particular region of the neocortex (the parietal cortex) can affect participants’ attention spans.
To analyze and simulate how attention works in the brain, they also developed detailed mathematical and computational (deep learning) models of the neocortex and midbrain. This research has been published in several prestigious journals, including PLoS Computational Biology.
“While these studies by our group and others have hinted at the role of various brain regions in attention, very few have experimentally established these links directly. As part of the Swarnajayanti Fellowship, our lab will seek to understand the “causal” mechanisms of attention in the brain. We will follow a three-pronged approach,” says Devarajan.
First, the group will track changes in the structure, activity and connectivity between specific brain regions (“neuroplasticity”) when participants are learning to pay attention, the DST said, adding that measuring those neuroplastic changes in the brain may have Key implications for testing the effectiveness of interventions for managing attention disorders, both in children and adults.
“Second, they will develop brain-machine interface technologies that can be used to train participants to voluntarily monitor activity in brain regions related to attention (“neurofeedback”). They will then try to find out if achieving such neurofeedback control improves the participants’ attention skills. This type of interface can become a non-invasive tool to train attention skills in healthy individuals, as well as in patients with attention disorders,” said DST.
After this, they will perturb and image brain activity in real time, down to the millisecond (“neurostimulation”), to identify the role of particular brain regions in attention. This technology can be adapted in clinical settings to target brain regions implicated in attention disorders, such as attention deficit disorder (ADD).
“Overall, the research findings from this proposal will advance our fundamental understanding of the key principles by which attention works in the human brain and may pave the way for developing rational strategies to manage and treat attention disorders. Devarajan added.
All experiments will be carried out in the state-of-the-art JN ​​Tata National MRI facility at IISc, which houses a 3T MRI scanner (Siemens Prisma) with integrated MR-EEG and MR-TMS setups.


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