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  1. Although we must prioritize the processing of task-relevant information to navigate life, our ability to do so fluctuates across time. Previous work has identified fMRI functional connectivity (FC) networks that predict an individual's ability to sustain attention and vary with attentional state from 1 min to the next. However, traditional dynamic FC approaches typically lack the temporal precision to capture moment-to-moment network fluctuations. Recently, researchers have “unfurled” traditional FC matrices in “edge cofluctuation time series” which measure timepoint-by-timepoint cofluctuations between regions. Here we apply event-based and parametric fMRI analyses to edge time series to capture moment-to-moment fluctuations in networks related to attention. In two independent fMRI datasets examining young adults of both sexes in which participants performed a sustained attention task, we identified a reliable set of edges that rapidly deflects in response to rare task events. Another set of edges varies with continuous fluctuations in attention and overlaps with a previously defined set of edges associated with individual differences in sustained attention. Demonstrating that edge-based analyses are not simply redundant with traditional regions-of-interest–based approaches, up to one-third of reliably deflected edges were not predicted from univariate activity patterns alone. These results reveal the large potential in combining traditional fMRI analyses with edge time series to identify rapid reconfigurations in networks across the brain.

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  2. The functional connectome supports information transmission through the brain at various spatial scales, from exchange between broad cortical regions to finer-scale, vertex-wise connections that underlie specific information processing mechanisms. In adults, while both the coarse- and fine-scale functional connectomes predict cognition, the fine scale can predict up to twice the variance as the coarse-scale functional connectome. Yet, past brain-wide association studies, particularly using large developmental samples, focus on the coarse connectome to understand the neural underpinnings of individual differences in cognition. Using a large cohort of children (age 9–10 years;n = 1,115 individuals; both sexes; 50% female, including 170 monozygotic and 219 dizygotic twin pairs and 337 unrelated individuals), we examine the reliability, heritability, and behavioral relevance of resting-state functional connectivity computed at different spatial scales. We use connectivity hyperalignment to improve access to reliable fine-scale (vertex-wise) connectivity information and compare the fine-scale connectome with the traditional parcel-wise (coarse scale) functional connectomes. Though individual differences in the fine-scale connectome are more reliable than those in the coarse-scale, they are less heritable. Further, the alignment and scale of connectomes influence their ability to predict behavior, whereby some cognitive traits are equally well predicted by both connectome scales, but other, less heritable cognitive traits are better predicted by the fine-scale connectome. Together, our findings suggest there are dissociable individual differences in information processing represented at different scales of the functional connectome which, in turn, have distinct implications for heritability and cognition.

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  3. Abstract

    Although practicing a task generally benefits later performance on that same task, there are individual differences in practice effects. One avenue to model such differences comes from research showing that brain networks extract functional advantages from operating in the vicinity of criticality, a state in which brain network activity is more scale-free. We hypothesized that higher scale-free signal from fMRI data, measured with the Hurst exponent (H), indicates closer proximity to critical states. We tested whether individuals with higher H during repeated task performance would show greater practice effects. In Study 1, participants performed a dual-n-back task (DNB) twice during MRI (n = 56). In Study 2, we used two runs of n-back task (NBK) data from the Human Connectome Project sample (n = 599). In Study 3, participants performed a word completion task (CAST) across six runs (n = 44). In all three studies, multivariate analysis was used to test whether higher H was related to greater practice-related performance improvement. Supporting our hypothesis, we found patterns of higher H that reliably correlated with greater performance improvement across participants in all three studies. However, the predictive brain regions were distinct, suggesting that the specific spatial H↑ patterns are not task-general.

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  4. Abstract

    Patterns of whole-brain fMRI functional connectivity, or connectomes, are unique to individuals. Previous work has identified subsets of functional connections within these patterns whose strength predicts aspects of attention and cognition. However, overall features of these connectomes, such as how stable they are over time and how similar they are to a group-average (typical) or high-performance (optimal) connectivity pattern, may also reflect cognitive and attentional abilities. Here, we test whether individuals who express more stable, typical, optimal, and distinctive patterns of functional connectivity perform better on cognitive tasks using data from three independent samples. We find that individuals with more stable task-based functional connectivity patterns perform better on attention and working memory tasks, even when controlling for behavioral performance stability. Additionally, we find initial evidence that individuals with more typical and optimal patterns of functional connectivity also perform better on these tasks. These results demonstrate that functional connectome stability within individuals and similarity across individuals predicts individual differences in cognition.

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  5. Abstract Sustained attention is a critical cognitive function reflected in an individual’s whole-brain pattern of functional magnetic resonance imaging functional connectivity. However, sustained attention is not a purely static trait. Rather, attention waxes and wanes over time. Do functional brain networks that underlie individual differences in sustained attention also underlie changes in attentional state? To investigate, we replicate the finding that a validated connectome-based model of individual differences in sustained attention tracks pharmacologically induced changes in attentional state. Specifically, preregistered analyses revealed that participants exhibited functional connectivity signatures of stronger attention when awake than when under deep sedation with the anesthetic agent propofol. Furthermore, this effect was relatively selective to the predefined sustained attention networks: propofol administration modulated strength of the sustained attention networks more than it modulated strength of canonical resting-state networks and a network defined to predict fluid intelligence, and the functional connections most affected by propofol sedation overlapped with the sustained attention networks. Thus, propofol modulates functional connectivity signatures of sustained attention within individuals. More broadly, these findings underscore the utility of pharmacological intervention in testing both the generalizability and specificity of network-based models of cognitive function. 
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  6. Cohen Kadosh, Roi (Ed.)
    Sustained attention (SA) and working memory (WM) are critical processes, but the brain networks supporting these abilities in development are unknown. We characterized the functional brain architecture of SA and WM in 9- to 11-year-old children and adults. First, we found that adult network predictors of SA generalized to predict individual differences and fluctuations in SA in youth. A WM model predicted WM performance both across and within children—and captured individual differences in later recognition memory—but underperformed in youth relative to adults. We next characterized functional connections differentially related to SA and WM in youth compared to adults. Results revealed 2 network configurations: a dominant architecture predicting performance in both age groups and a secondary architecture, more prominent for WM than SA, predicting performance in each age group differently. Thus, functional connectivity (FC) predicts SA and WM in youth, with networks predicting WM performance differing more between youths and adults than those predicting SA. 
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  7. As we comprehend narratives, our attentional engagement fluctuates over time. Despite theoretical conceptions of narrative engagement as emotion-laden attention, little empirical work has characterized the cognitive and neural processes that comprise subjective engagement in naturalistic contexts or its consequences for memory. Here, we relate fluctuations in narrative engagement to patterns of brain coactivation and test whether neural signatures of engagement predict subsequent memory. In behavioral studies, participants continuously rated how engaged they were as they watched a television episode or listened to a story. Self-reported engagement was synchronized across individuals and driven by the emotional content of the narratives. In functional MRI datasets collected as different individuals watched the same show or listened to the same story, engagement drove neural synchrony, such that default mode network activity was more synchronized across individuals during more engaging moments of the narratives. Furthermore, models based on time-varying functional brain connectivity predicted evolving states of engagement across participants and independent datasets. The functional connections that predicted engagement overlapped with a validated neuromarker of sustained attention and predicted recall of narrative events. Together, our findings characterize the neural signatures of attentional engagement in naturalistic contexts and elucidate relationships among narrative engagement, sustained attention, and event memory. 
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  8. null (Ed.)
  9. Abstract

    Individual differences in children's cognitive abilities impact life and health outcomes. What factors influence these individual differences during development? Here, we test whether children's environments predict cognitive performance, independent of well‐characterized socioeconomic effects. We analyzed data from 9002 9‐ to 10‐year olds from the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development Study, an ongoing longitudinal study with community samples across the United States. Using youth‐ and caregiver‐report questionnaires and national database registries (e.g., neighborhood crime, walkability), we defined principal components summarizing children's home, school, neighborhood, and cultural environments. In two independent samples (ns = 3475, 5527), environmental components explained unique variance in children's general cognitive ability, executive functioning, and learning/memory abilities. Furthermore, increased neighborhood enrichment was associated with an attenuated relationship between sociodemographics and general cognitive abilities. Thus, the environment accounts for unique variance in cognitive performance in children and should be considered alongside sociodemographic factors to better understand brain functioning and behavior across development.

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