The D'Esposito Lab is a cognitive neuroscience research laboratory within the
Helen Wills Neuroscience Institute
and the Department of Psychology.

Recent Publications

Cohen, JR, D'Esposito M.  2016.  The Segregation and Integration of Distinct Brain Networks and Their Relationship to Cognition., 2016 Nov 30. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience. 36(48):12083-12094. Abstract

A critical feature of the human brain that gives rise to complex cognition is its ability to reconfigure its network structure dynamically and adaptively in response to the environment. Existing research probing task-related reconfiguration of brain network structure has concluded that, although there are many similarities in network structure during an intrinsic, resting state and during the performance of a variety of cognitive tasks, there are meaningful differences as well. In this study, we related intrinsic, resting state network organization to reconfigured network organization during the performance of two tasks: a sequence tapping task, which is thought to probe motor execution and likely engages a single brain network, and an n-back task, which is thought to probe working memory and likely requires coordination across multiple networks. We implemented graph theoretical analyses using functional connectivity data from fMRI scans to calculate whole-brain measures of network organization in healthy young adults. We focused on quantifying measures of network segregation (modularity, system segregation, local efficiency, number of provincial hub nodes) and measures of network integration (global efficiency, number of connector hub nodes). Using these measures, we found converging evidence that local, within-network communication is critical for motor execution, whereas integrative, between-network communication is critical for working memory. These results confirm that the human brain has the remarkable ability to reconfigure its large-scale organization dynamically in response to current cognitive demands and that interpreting reconfiguration in terms of network segregation and integration may shed light on the optimal network structures underlying successful cognition.

Gallen, CL, Baniqued PL, Chapman SB, Aslan S, Keebler M, Didehbani N, D'Esposito M.  2016.  Modular Brain Network Organization Predicts Response to Cognitive Training in Older Adults., 2016. PloS one. 11(12):e0169015. Abstract

Cognitive training interventions are a promising approach to mitigate cognitive deficits common in aging and, ultimately, to improve functioning in older adults. Baseline neural factors, such as properties of brain networks, may predict training outcomes and can be used to improve the effectiveness of interventions. Here, we investigated the relationship between baseline brain network modularity, a measure of the segregation of brain sub-networks, and training-related gains in cognition in older adults. We found that older adults with more segregated brain sub-networks (i.e., more modular networks) at baseline exhibited greater training improvements in the ability to synthesize complex information. Further, the relationship between modularity and training-related gains was more pronounced in sub-networks mediating "associative" functions compared with those involved in sensory-motor processing. These results suggest that assessments of brain networks can be used as a biomarker to guide the implementation of cognitive interventions and improve outcomes across individuals. More broadly, these findings also suggest that properties of brain networks may capture individual differences in learning and neuroplasticity. Trail Registration:, NCT#00977418.

Nee, DE, D'Esposito M.  2016.  The hierarchical organization of the lateral prefrontal cortex., 2016. eLife. 5 Abstract

Higher-level cognition depends on the lateral prefrontal cortex (LPFC), but its functional organization has remained elusive. An influential proposal is that the LPFC is organized hierarchically whereby progressively rostral areas of the LPFC process/represent increasingly abstract information facilitating efficient and flexible cognition. However, support for this theory has been limited. Here, human fMRI data revealed rostral/caudal gradients of abstraction in the LPFC. Dynamic causal modeling revealed asymmetrical LPFC interactions indicative of hierarchical processing. Contrary to dominant assumptions, the relative strength of efferent versus afferent connections positioned mid LPFC as the apex of the hierarchy. Furthermore, cognitive demands induced connectivity modulations towards mid LPFC consistent with a role in integrating information for control operations. Moreover, the strengths of these dynamics were related to trait-measured higher-level cognitive ability. Collectively, these results suggest that the LPFC is hierarchically organized with the mid LPFC positioned to synthesize abstract and concrete information to control behavior.

Rahnev, D, Nee DE, Riddle J, Larson AS, D'Esposito M.  2016.  Causal evidence for frontal cortex organization for perceptual decision making., 2016 May 9. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. Abstract

Although recent research has shown that the frontal cortex has a critical role in perceptual decision making, an overarching theory of frontal functional organization for perception has yet to emerge. Perceptual decision making is temporally organized such that it requires the processes of selection, criterion setting, and evaluation. We hypothesized that exploring this temporal structure would reveal a large-scale frontal organization for perception. A causal intervention with transcranial magnetic stimulation revealed clear specialization along the rostrocaudal axis such that the control of successive stages of perceptual decision making was selectively affected by perturbation of successively rostral areas. Simulations with a dynamic model of decision making suggested distinct computational contributions of each region. Finally, the emergent frontal gradient was further corroborated by functional MRI. These causal results provide an organizational principle for the role of frontal cortex in the control of perceptual decision making and suggest specific mechanistic contributions for its different subregions.

Gallen, CL, Turner GR, Adnan A, D'Esposito M.  2016.  Reconfiguration of brain network architecture to support executive control in aging., 2016 Aug. Neurobiology of aging. 44:42-52. Abstract

Aging is accompanied by declines in executive control abilities and changes in underlying brain network architecture. Here, we examined brain networks in young and older adults during a task-free resting state and an N-back task and investigated age-related changes in the modular network organization of the brain. Compared with young adults, older adults showed larger changes in network organization between resting state and task. Although young adults exhibited increased connectivity between lateral frontal regions and other network modules during the most difficult task condition, older adults also exhibited this pattern of increased connectivity during less-demanding task conditions. Moreover, the increase in between-module connectivity in older adults was related to faster task performance and greater fractional anisotropy of the superior longitudinal fasciculus. These results demonstrate that older adults who exhibit more pronounced network changes between a resting state and task have better executive control performance and greater structural connectivity of a core frontal-posterior white matter pathway.