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J Sleep Res. 2012 Dec;21(6):648-58. doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2869.2012.01020.x. Epub 2012 May 18.

Influence of acute sleep loss on the neural correlates of alerting, orientating and executive attention components.

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Cyclotron Research Centre, University of Liège, Belgium.


The Attention Network Test (ANT) is deemed to assess the alerting, orientating and executive components of human attention. Capitalizing on the opportunity to investigate three facets of attention in a single task, we used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to assess the effect of sleep deprivation (SD) on brain responses associated with the three attentional components elicited by the ANT. Twelve healthy volunteers were scanned in two conditions 1 week apart, after a normal night of sleep (rested wakefulness, RW) or after one night of total sleep deprivation. Sleep deprivation was associated with a global increase in reaction times, which did not affect specifically any of the three attention effects. Brain responses associated with the alerting effect did not differ between RW and SD. Higher-order attention components (orientating and conflict effects) were associated with significantly larger thalamic responses during SD than during RW. These results suggest that SD influences different components of human attention non-selectively, through mechanisms that might either affect centrencephalic structures maintaining vigilance or ubiquitously perturb neuronal function. Compensatory responses can counter these effects transiently by recruiting thalamic responses, thereby supporting thalamocortical function.

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