Every day we are faced with a myriad of small and not so small challenges that require appropriate organization and coordination of our cognitive abilities to be able to respond in a effective, goal directed manner. Some of the challenges are well known and responses well practiced and automatized, many, however, require purposeful, explicit control over the coordinated use of the available cognitive resources, flexibly bringing some online while inhibiting distracting effects of others. The brain mechanisms that enable effective cognitive control are the subject of study in this research proposal.
Whereas many studies have focused on identification of brain areas that perform specific cognitive control functions, such as goal maintenance, action selection, conflict detection, and cognitive inhibition, and specification of computations they perform, little is known about the mechanisms that allow flexible coordination of processing across a number of brain systems. In this research project we propose to test the hypothesis that effective cognitive control is enabled by flexible adjustment of functional connectivity between relevant brain areas. This allows formation of virtual workspaces in which processes needed to complete the task at hand can exchange information effectively.
To test this hypothesis and explore the mechanisms in play, we propose to use and develop new state-of-the-art methods of studying dynamic functional connectivity of the brain at rest and during task. We would apply these methods to both available large scale resting state datasets as well as task fMRI data collected using cognitive control challenge paradigm developed to maximally engage flexible cognitive control. We would use the task to, first, test for flexible reorganization of functional connectivity on a homogenous sample of healthy participants; second, explore the relationship between cognitive control related functional connectivity dynamics and behavioral measures of cognitive control, general fluid inteligence and presence of psychopathology in large community sample od participants; third, study the specific pattern of cognitive control related functional dysconnectivity in sample of Parkinson’s disease patients and patients with major depression, and its relationship to observed psychopathology. Last, to gain insight into possible role of the dopaminergic system in flexible cognitve control we would use pharmacological challenge to study the effect of dopamine modulation on the ability for flexible reorganization of whole-brain functional connectivity,
The proposed project would make significant strides towards understanding of cognitive control from the perspective of brain network dynamics and provide insights into mechanisms of brain function integration. It would offer important information about the role of flexible cognitive control in general cognitive abilities and its mediating function in psychopathology. It would make important steps in bridging the gap between molecular, cellular and systems understanding of brain function. Additionally, it would make significant contributions to advancement of functional brain imaging methods, with specific emphasis on the study of task related dynamic functional connectivity.