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The role of sensory cortex and cortical "hubs" in category-specific executive function

33.4021, Sunday, 17-May, 8:30 am - 12:30 pm, Pavilion
Session: Attention: Reward

Thomas James1,2, Lindsay Arcurio2,3, Anastasia Nikoulina1; 1Cognitive Science Program, Indiana University, 2Department of Psychological and Brain Sciences, Indiana University, 3Section on Clinical Psychoneuroendocrinology and Neuropsychopharmacology, National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism

Human executive functions are sensitive to visual cues that make up the environmental context, but there are few research programs that study this influence or study the impact of changes in sensory neural signals on frontal cortical function. In this talk, I will present findings from studies of people with alcohol use disorders (AUD) that implicate the lateral occipital cortex (LOC) and its connections with the anterior insular cortex (AIC) in impulsive decisions-to-drink when exposed to visual alcohol cues. Specifically, 31 women (15 AUD) were scanned using fMRI while performing a decisions-to-drink task. In that task, they were presented with alcohol and food cues that were normed for attractiveness/desirability. They were asked to imagine themselves in a situation where deciding to drink had a high or low probability of a negative consequence and were asked to rate their likelihood of drinking (or eating) on a 4-point scale. AUD women endorsed alcohol cues more than non-AUD, but not food cues – a category-specific effect on decision making. Differences in BOLD signal between AUD women and non-AUD for alcohol vs food cues were widespread and always greater for AUD. This finding suggests that there was no single neural system (e.g., cognitive control) that accounts for the group difference in behavior. Comparing high- to low-risk scenarios highlighted differences between AUD and non-AUD in the LOC and AIC. A task-based functional connectivity analyses provided further support for the role of LOC and AIC in AUD women producing more impulsive category-specific decisions. In conclusion, widespread differences in decision-related BOLD signal between AUD and non-AUD may originate in the visual cortex (LOC) and cascade throughout the brain by way of network “hubs” such as the AIC. These results highlight the important (but underappreciated) role of sensory cortices in decision making and other executive functions.

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