Increased cerebral response during a divided attention task following sleep deprivation
We recently reported that the brain showed greater responsiveness to some cognitive demands following total sleep deprivation (TSD). Specifically, verbal learning led to increased cerebral activation following TSD while arithmetic resulted in decreased activation. Here we report data from a divided attention task that combined verbal learning and arithmetic. Thirteen normal control subjects performed the task while undergoing functional magnetic resonance imaging (FMRI) scans after a normal night of sleep and following 35 h TSD. Behaviourally, subjects showed only modest impairments following TSD. With respect to cerebral activation, the results showed (a) increased activation in the prefrontal cortex and parietal lobes, particularly in the right hemisphere, following TSD, (b) activation in left inferior frontal gyrus correlated with increased subjective sleepiness after TSD, and (c) activation in bilateral parietal lobes correlated with the extent of intact memory performance after TSD. Many of the brain regions showing a greater response after TSD compared with normal sleep are thought to be involved in control of attention. These data imply that the divided attention task required more attentional resources (specifically, performance monitoring and sustained attention) following TSD than after normal sleep. Other neuroimaging results may relate to the verbal learning and/or arithmetic demands of the task. This is the first study to examine divided attention performance after TSD with neuroimaging and supports our previous suggestion that the brain may be more plastic during cognitive performance following TSD than previously thought.
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