Sustained attention is fundamental for cognition and when impaired, impacts negatively on important contemporary living skills. Degradation in sustained attention is characterized by the time-on-task (TOT) effect, which manifests as a gradual increase in reaction time (RT). The TOT effect is accompanied by changes in relative brain activity patterns in attention-related areas, most noticeably in the prefrontal cortex (PFC) and the right parietal areas. However, activity changes in task-relevant motor structures have not been confirmed to date. This article describes an investigation of such motor-related activity changes as measured with 1) the time course of corticospinal excitability (CSE) through single-pulse transcranial magnetic stimulation; and 2) the changes in activity of premotor (PMC), primary motor (M1), PFC, and right parietal areas by means of near-infrared spectroscopy, during a sustained attention RT task exhibiting the TOT effect. Our results corroborate established findings such as a significant increase (P < 0.05) in lateral prefrontal and right parietal areas activity after the emergence of the TOT effect but also reveal adaptations in the form of motor activity changes--in particular, a significant increase in CSE (P < 0.01) and in primary motor area (M1) activity (P < 0.05).
Keywords: NIRS; motor preparation; sustained attention; time-on-task; transcranial magnetic stimulation.
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