The activation of attentional networks

Neuroimage. 2005 Jun;26(2):471-9. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2005.02.004. Epub 2005 Mar 19.


Alerting, orienting, and executive control are widely thought to be relatively independent aspects of attention that are linked to separable brain regions. However, neuroimaging studies have yet to examine evidence for the anatomical separability of these three aspects of attention in the same subjects performing the same task. The attention network test (ANT) examines the effects of cues and targets within a single reaction time task to provide a means of exploring the efficiency of the alerting, orienting, and executive control networks involved in attention. It also provides an opportunity to examine the brain activity of these three networks as they operate in a single integrated task. We used event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to explore the brain areas involved in the three attention systems targeted by the ANT. The alerting contrast showed strong thalamic involvement and activation of anterior and posterior cortical sites. As expected, the orienting contrast activated parietal sites and frontal eye fields. The executive control network contrast showed activation of the anterior cingulate along with several other brain areas. With some exceptions, activation patterns of these three networks within this single task are consistent with previous fMRI studies that have been studied in separate tasks. Overall, the fMRI results suggest that the functional contrasts within this single task differentially activate three separable anatomical networks related to the components of attention.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Algorithms
  • Attention / physiology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology
  • Cues
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality / physiology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Orientation / physiology
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Reaction Time / physiology
  • Temporal Lobe / physiology
  • Thalamus / physiology