Researchers from Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine and colleagues have discovered how two brain regions work together to maintain attention, and how discordance between the regions could lead to attention deficit disorders, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and major depression.
People with attention deficits have difficulty focusing and often display compulsive behavior. The new study suggests these symptoms could be due to dysfunction in a gene — ErbB4 — that helps different brain regions communicate. The gene is a known risk factor for psychiatric disorders, and is required to maintain healthy neurotransmitter levels in the brain.
In a study published in the current issue of Neuron, researchers showed mice lacking ErbB4 activity in specific brain regions performed poorly on timed attention tasks. The mice struggled to pay attention and remember visual cues associated with food. Neuroscientists describe the kind of thought-driven attention required for the tasks as “top-down attention.” Top-down attention is goal-oriented, and related to focus. People who lack efficient top-down attention are at a higher risk for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The study is the first to connect ErbB4 to top-down attention.