Projects / Programmes source: ARIS

Mechanisms of functional brain integration underlying efficient cognitive control

Research activity

Code Science Field Subfield
7.00.00  Interdisciplinary research     

Code Science Field
S260  Social sciences  Psychology 

Code Science Field
5.01  Social Sciences  Psychology and cognitive sciences 
cognitive control, fMRI, functional connectivity, brain function, individual differences, psychopathology, dopamin, Parkinsons's disease, depression
Evaluation (rules)
source: COBISS
Researchers (21)
no. Code Name and surname Research area Role Period No. of publicationsNo. of publications
1.  39533  PhD Blaž Banič  Biochemistry and molecular biology  Researcher  2017 
2.  34576  PhD Rok Berlot  Neurobiology  Researcher  2014 - 2017  101 
3.  33621  PhD Jurij Bon  Psychiatry  Researcher  2014 - 2017  172 
4.  09182  PhD Valentin Bucik  Psychology  Researcher  2014 - 2017  654 
5.  30915  PhD Dejan Georgiev  Neurobiology  Researcher  2014 - 2017  220 
6.  21239  PhD Blaž Koritnik  Medical sciences  Researcher  2014 - 2017  275 
7.  38946  Andraž Matkovič  Neurobiology  Researcher  2016 - 2017  53 
8.  38947  Indre Pileckyte    Technical associate  2016 
9.  05380  PhD Zvezdan Pirtošek  Neurobiology  Researcher  2014 - 2017  751 
10.  18919  PhD Anja Podlesek  Psychology  Researcher  2014 - 2017  542 
11.  17893  PhD Grega Repovš  Psychology  Head  2014 - 2017  490 
12.  35603  Tina Robida    Technical associate  2014  16 
13.  37994  Katja Romarić    Technical associate  2015  15 
14.  36162  PhD Anka Slana Ozimič  Neurobiology  Researcher  2014 - 2017  127 
15.  36915  Aljaž Sluga  Social sciences  Technical associate  2014 - 2016 
16.  33422  PhD Martina Starc  Psychology  Researcher  2014 - 2016  80 
17.  15062  PhD Matija Svetina  Psychology  Researcher  2014  363 
18.  26487  PhD Vita Štukovnik  Psychology  Researcher  2014 - 2017  141 
19.  07002  PhD Dušan Šuput  Neurobiology  Researcher  2014 - 2017  436 
20.  07476  PhD David Božidar Vodušek  Neurobiology  Researcher  2014 - 2017  470 
21.  26268  PhD Andrej Vovk  Neurobiology  Researcher  2014 - 2017  54 
Organisations (3)
no. Code Research organisation City Registration number No. of publicationsNo. of publications
1.  0312  University Medical Centre Ljubljana  Ljubljana  5057272000  77,953 
2.  0381  University of Ljubljana, Faculty of Medicine  Ljubljana  1627066  48,743 
3.  0581  University of Ljubljana, Faculty of Arts  Ljubljana  1627058  98,910 
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.
Significance for science
The project addressed research question on the nature of cognitive control and mechanisms of integration of brain function. The basic hypothesis of the project was that cognitive control is not a result of a function of a single brain area but rather a network of cognitive control brain regions that jointly enable coordinated activity and integrated performance of the areas relevant for current task execution. The results of the project confirm the basic hypothesis and with that contribute to shifting the focus from the study of individual brain areas to the dynamics of their functional connectivity. They show how cognitive control network efficiency significantly contributes to individual cognitive abilities and how the loss of efficiency presents a significant pathology in schizophrenia. Especially by study of dysfunction of integration of information in schizophrenia the project reveals the significance of mechanisms that enable maintenance of dynamic balance of neural circuitry and with that forming and maintaining representations that underly efficient cognitive control. It identifies significant differences in functional hierarchy of brain areas and their sensitivity to pathological changes in schizophrenia. Additionally the results demonstrate flexible nature of cognitive control, the ability to switch between strategies and concurrent changes in sustained activity of a larger set of brain systems and specific modulation of transient activity of cognitive control brain networks. In case of incentive the results of some tasks indicate a surprising dissociation between significant activation of brain systems in absence of task performance improvement, which opens both interesting basic research questions as well as need for further research in applied cognitive psychology and management. This set of results also emphasises the importance and need for interdisciplinary integration of research between psychology, economics and neuroscience. Besides novel findings and insights about the role and mechanism of cognitive control, the project opens up novel research questions and offers methodological tools to address them. Within the project we have designed a novel cognitive control challenge task that enables elicitation, formulation and shifting between varied task sets that include patterns of integration and inhibition of different cognitive systems and relevant brain systems. The task has been shown to be useful both for the purpose of the study of basic processes of cognitive control as well as assessment of individual differences, which opens up the possibility of use as a diagnostic tool. Within the project we have developed and improved tools for efficient preparation, preprocessing, analysis and statistical testing of neuroimaging data that we believe will benefit the scientific community.
Significance for the country
Project findings and insights gained will contribute to advancement of understanding of properties and mechanisms of cognitive control in health and disease. They will contribute to better understanding of: i) role of cognitive control and the effect of its dysfunction in mental and neurodegenerative dysfunctions and diseases—that are in recent years growing both in Slovenia and wider and already represent the largest proportion of direct and indirect health costs—and help improve their diagnosis, monitoring and treatment; ii) of role of cognitive control in everyday living and the significance of its decline in healthy ageing, which is necessary for development of effective interventions for maintenance of high quality of life in an ageing population; iii) the effect of different forms of incentives on activities that require cognitive control, as well as the limits of their effectiveness in management contexts. Developmental efforts have resulted in: iv) new instrument for the study of cognitive control with apparent numerous use cases from clinical diagnostics to individual differences assessments that is appealing to participants, adjusted to Slovenian language, with increasing amount of data to enable design of appropriate norms; v) advanced software tools for efficient preparation, preprocessing, analysis and statistical testing of neuroimaging data that will support future research work. The project also contributed to strengthening of collaboration with established research laboratories and researchers from Washington University in Saint Louis and Yale University. Successful collaboration, impactful results and development of state-of-the-art software tools significantly contributes to promotion of Slovenian researchers in the area of cognitive neuroscience and by extension Slovenian state in international research community. Inclusion of young researchers and scientists at the beginning of their careers in international collaborations enables significant transfer of knowledge and experience and professional networking that are key for ensuring further development of cognitive neuroscience in Slovenia.
Most important scientific results Annual report 2014, 2015, final report
Most important socioeconomically and culturally relevant results Annual report 2014, 2015, final report
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