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Neuropsychologia. 2008 Oct;46(12):2943-8. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2008.06.005. Epub 2008 Jun 14.

Modulation of the spatial attention network by incentives in healthy aging and mild cognitive impairment.

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  • 1Cognitive Neurology and Alzheimer's Disease Center, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, United States.


Impairments of spatial attention are common in Alzheimer's disease (AD), but may develop earlier in the course of the disease, a condition referred to as mild cognitive impairment (MCI). In a previous experiment, we showed that emotional content overcame the AD-related decline in selective attention to novel events [LaBar, K. S., Mesulam, M., Gitelman, D. R., & Weintraub, S. (2000). Emotional curiosity: Modulation of visuospatial attention by arousal is preserved in aging and early-stage Alzheimer's disease. Neuropsychologia, 38(13), 1734-1740]. The current experiment examined the influence of secondary reinforcers upon selective spatial attention in MCI and healthy aging (EC). Subjects performed a covert attention task while undergoing fMRI. They won money for fast responses and lost money for slow responses. In young subjects, this task had shown that the influence of incentive upon spatial attention is mediated by the posterior cingulate (PCC) and orbitofrontal cortices (OFC) [Small, D. M., Gitelman, D., Simmons, K., Bloise, S. M., Parrish, T., & Mesulam, M. M. (2005). Monetary incentives enhance processing in brain regions mediating top-down control of attention. Cerebral Cortex, 15(12), 1855-1865]. Both groups were able to use spatial cues to generate an anticipatory attentional shift towards the cued location. The prospect of winning (but not losing) money enhanced attentional shifts in EC subjects, an effect that was mediated by OFC activation. In contrast, only the prospect of losing money enhanced attentional shifts in MCI subjects, an effect that correlated with PCC activation. Behavioral effects of incentive upon spatial attention are only partially maintained in EC and MCI with corresponding modifications in the underlying neural circuitry. These results suggest a reorganization of the relationships between the limbic system and spatial attention network in healthy aging and MCI.

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