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  1. Everyday experience requires processing external signals from the world around us and internal information retrieved from memory. To do both, the brain must fluctuate between states that are optimized for external versus internal attention. Here, we focus on the hippocampus as a region that may serve at the interface between these forms of attention and ask how it switches between prioritizing sensory signals from the external world versus internal signals related to memories and thoughts. Pharmacological, computational, and animal studies have identified input from the cholinergic basal forebrain as important for biasing the hippocampus toward processing external information, whereas complementary research suggests the dorsal attention network (DAN) may aid in allocating attentional resources toward accessing internal information. We therefore tested the hypothesis that the basal forebrain and DAN drive the hippocampus toward external and internal attention, respectively. We used data from 29 human participants (17 female) who completed two attention tasks during fMRI. One task (memory-guided) required proportionally more internal attention, and proportionally less external attention, than the other (explicitly instructed). We discovered that background functional connectivity between the basal forebrain and hippocampus was stronger during the explicitly instructed versus memory-guided task. In contrast, DAN–hippocampus background connectivity was stronger during the memory-guided versus explicitly instructed task. Finally, the strength of DAN–hippocampus background connectivity was correlated with performance on the memory-guided but not explicitly instructed task. Together, these results provide evidence that the basal forebrain and DAN may modulate the hippocampus to switch between external and internal attention.

    SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENTHow does the brain balance the need to pay attention to internal thoughts and external sensations? We focused on the human hippocampus, a region that may serve at the interface between internal and external attention, and asked how its functional connectivity varies based on attentional states. The hippocampus was more strongly coupled with the cholinergic basal forebrain when attentional states were guided by the external world rather than retrieved memories. This pattern flipped for functional connectivity between the hippocampus and dorsal attention network, which was higher for attention tasks that were guided by memory rather than external cues. Together, these findings show that distinct networks in the brain may modulate the hippocampus to switch between external and internal attention.

     
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  2. Cognitive tasks engage multiple brain regions. Studying how these regions interact is key to understand the neural bases of cognition. Standard approaches to model the interactions between brain regions rely on univariate statistical dependence. However, newly developed methods can capture multivariate dependence. Multivariate pattern dependence (MVPD) is a powerful and flexible approach that trains and tests multivariate models of the interactions between brain regions using independent data. In this article, we introduce PyMVPD: an open source toolbox for multivariate pattern dependence. The toolbox includes linear regression models and artificial neural network models of the interactions between regions. It is designed to be easily customizable. We demonstrate example applications of PyMVPD using well-studied seed regions such as the fusiform face area (FFA) and the parahippocampal place area (PPA). Next, we compare the performance of different model architectures. Overall, artificial neural networks outperform linear regression. Importantly, the best performing architecture is region-dependent: MVPD subdivides cortex in distinct, contiguous regions whose interaction with FFA and PPA is best captured by different models. 
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  3. Abstract Here, we propose a novel technique to investigate nonlinear interactions between brain regions that captures both the strength and type of the functional relationship. Inspired by the field of functional analysis, we propose that the relationship between activity in separate brain areas can be viewed as a point in function space, identified by coordinates along an infinite set of basis functions. Using Hermite polynomials as bases, we estimate a subset of these values that serve as “functional coordinates,” characterizing the interaction between BOLD activity across brain areas. We provide a proof of the convergence of the estimates in the limit, and we validate the method with simulations in which the ground truth is known, additionally showing that functional coordinates detect statistical dependence even when correlations (“functional connectivity”) approach zero. We then use functional coordinates to examine neural interactions with a chosen seed region: the fusiform face area (FFA). Using k-means clustering across each voxel’s functional coordinates, we illustrate that adding nonlinear basis functions allows for the discrimination of interregional interactions that are otherwise grouped together when using only linear dependence. Finally, we show that regions in V5 and medial occipital and temporal lobes exhibit significant nonlinear interactions with the FFA. 
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