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Neuroimage. 2010 Jun;51(2):835-43. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2010.02.031. Epub 2010 Feb 17.

Lapsing when sleep deprived: neural activation characteristics of resistant and vulnerable individuals.

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Cognitive Neuroscience Laboratory, Duke-NUS Graduate Medical School, Singapore 169857, Singapore.


Lapses of attention, in the form of delayed responses to salient stimuli, increase in frequency for some but not all persons after sleep deprivation (SD). To identify patterns of task-related brain activation that might explain differences in vulnerability to SD, we performed fMRI on participants during a visual, selective attention task. We analyzed the correct responses in a trial-by-trial fashion to model the effects of response time. Stimulus contrast was varied to modulate perceptual difficulty. Attentional lapses and low-contrast stimuli were independently associated with increased signal in fronto-parietal regions associated with biasing attention. Sleep-deprived vulnerable individuals showed reduced top down fronto-parietal signal across all levels of image contrast and this reduction was particularly significant during lapses. There was concurrent reduction in extrastriate cortex and thalamus activation. Non-vulnerable persons showed a trend towards higher top-down biasing of attention and preserved visual cortex activation during SD lapses. A major contributor to performance degradation in SD appears to be a reduction in top-down biasing of attention that is independent of task difficulty.

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