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

Recent Publications

Hwang, K, Bertolero M, Liu W, D'Esposito M.  2017.  The human thalamus is an integrative hub for functional brain networks., 2017 Apr 27. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience. Abstract

The thalamus is globally connected with distributed cortical regions, yet the functional significance of this extensive thalamocortical connectivity remains largely unknown. By performing graph-theoretic analyses on thalamocortical functional connectivity data collected from human participants, we found that most thalamic subdivisions display network properties capable of integrating multimodal information across diverse cortical functional networks. From a meta-analysis of a large dataset of functional brain imaging experiments, we further found that the thalamus is involved in multiple cognitive functions. Finally, we found that focal thalamic lesions in humans have widespread distal effects, disrupting the modular organization of cortical functional networks. This converging evidence suggests that the human thalamus is a critical hub region that could integrate diverse information being processed throughout the cerebral cortex, as well as maintain the modular structure of cortical functional networks.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENTThe thalamus is traditionally viewed as a passive relay station of information from sensory organs or subcortical structures to the cortex. However, the thalamus has extensive connections with the entire cerebral cortex, which can also serve to integrate information processing between cortical regions. In this study, we demonstrate that multiple thalamic subdivisions displays network properties capable of integrating information across multiple functional brain networks. Moreover, the thalamus is engaged by tasks requiring multiple cognitive functions. These findings support the idea that the thalamus is involved in integrating information across cortical networks.

Gratton, C, Yousef S, Aarts E, Wallace DL, D'Esposito M, Silver MA.  2017.  Cholinergic, but not dopaminergic or noradrenergic, enhancement sharpens visual spatial perception in humans., 2017 Mar 23. The Journal of neuroscience : the official journal of the Society for Neuroscience. Abstract

The neuromodulator acetylcholine (ACh) modulates spatial integration in visual cortex by altering the balance of inputs that generate neuronal receptive fields. These cholinergic effects may provide a neurobiological mechanism underlying the modulation of visual representations by visual spatial attention. However, the consequences of cholinergic enhancement on visuospatial perception in humans are unknown. We conducted two experiments to test whether enhancing cholinergic signaling selectively alters perceptual measures of visuospatial interactions in human subjects. In Experiment 1, a double-blind placebo-controlled pharmacology study, we measured how flanking distractors influenced detection of a small contrast decrement of a peripheral target, as a function of target/flanker distance. We found that cholinergic enhancement with the cholinesterase inhibitor donepezil improved target detection, and modeling suggested that this was mainly due to a narrowing of the extent of facilitatory perceptual spatial interactions. In Experiment 2, we tested whether these effects were selective to the cholinergic system or would also be observed following enhancements of related neuromodulators dopamine (DA) or norepinephrine (NE). Unlike cholinergic enhancement, DA (bromocriptine) and NE (guanfacine) manipulations did not improve performance or systematically alter the spatial profile of perceptual interactions between targets and distractors. These findings reveal mechanisms by which cholinergic signaling influences visual spatial interactions in perception and improves processing of a visual target among distractors - effects that are notably similar to those of spatial selective attention.Significance StatementAcetylcholine influences how visual cortical neurons integrate signals across space - perhaps providing a neurobiological mechanism for the effects of visual selective attention. However, the influence of cholinergic enhancement on visuospatial perception remains unknown. Here we demonstrate that cholinergic enhancement improves detection of a target flanked by distractors, consistent with sharpened visuospatial perceptual representations. Furthermore, while most pharmacological studies focus on a single neurotransmitter, many neuromodulators can have related effects on cognition and perception. Thus, we also demonstrate that enhancing noradrenergic and dopaminergic systems does not systematically improve visuospatial perception or alter its tuning. Our results link visuospatial tuning effects of acetylcholine at the neuronal and perceptual levels and provide insights into the connection between cholinergic signaling and visual attention.

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.