Sleep deprivation (SD) can degrade cognitive functioning, but growing evidence suggests that there are large individual differences in the vulnerability to this effect. Some evidence suggests that baseline differences in the responsiveness of a fronto-parietal attention system that is activated during working memory (WM) tasks may be associated with the ability to sustain vigilance during sleep deprivation. However, the neurocircuitry underlying this network remains virtually unexplored. In this study, we employed diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) to investigate the association between the microstructure of the axonal pathway connecting the frontal and parietal regions--i.e., the superior longitudinal fasciculus (SLF)--and individual resistance to SD. Thirty healthy participants (15 males) aged 20-43 years underwent functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) at rested wakefulness prior to a 28-hour period of SD. Task-related fronto-parietal fMRI activation clusters during a Sternberg WM Task were localized and used as seed regions for probabilistic fiber tractography. DTI metrics, including fractional anisotropy, mean diffusivity, axial and radial diffusivity were measured in the SLF. The psychomotor vigilance test (PVT) was used to evaluate resistance to SD. We found that activation in the left inferior parietal lobule (IPL) and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) positively correlated with resistance. Higher fractional anisotropy of the left SLF comprising the primary axons connecting IPL and DLPFC was also associated with better resistance. These findings suggest that individual differences in resistance to SD are associated with the functional responsiveness of a fronto-parietal attention system and the microstructural properties of the axonal interconnections.
Keywords: Diffusion tensor imaging; Fiber tractography; Fronto-parietal activation; Functional MRI; Sleep deprivation; Superior longitudinal fasciculus; Working memory.
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