On the functional neuroanatomy of intrinsic and phasic alertness

Neuroimage. 2001 Jul;14(1 Pt 2):S76-84. doi: 10.1006/nimg.2001.0839.


Intrinsic and phasic alertness are the most basic aspects of attention intensity probably constituting the basis for the more complex and capacity-demanding aspects of attention selectivity. Intrinsic alertness represents the cognitive control of wakefulness and arousal and is typically assessed by simple reaction time tasks without a preceding warning stimulus. Phasic alertness, in contrast, is called for in reaction time tasks in which a warning stimulus precedes the target, and it represents the ability to increase response readiness subsequent to external cueing. We report PET and fMRI data from both the literature and our own experiments to delineate the cortical and subcortical networks subserving alertness, sustained attention (as another aspect of attention intensity), and spatial orienting of attention. Irrespective of stimulus modality, there seems to exist a mostly right-hemispheric frontal, parietal, thalamic, and brain-stem network which is coactivated by alerting and orienting attentional demands. These findings corroborate both the hypothesis of a frontal modulation of brain-stem activation probably via the reticular nucleus of the thalamus and of a coactivation of the posterior attention system involved in spatial orienting by the anterior alerting network. Under conditions of phasic alertness there are additional activations of left-hemisphere frontal and parietal structures which are interpreted as basal aspects of attention selectivity rather than additional features of alerting.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Arousal / physiology*
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Brain Mapping
  • Brain Stem / physiology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Dominance, Cerebral / physiology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Space Perception / physiology*
  • Thalamus / physiology*
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed