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The dopaminergic and noradrenergic attention centers


The dopaminergic and noradrenergic attention centers

The brain has several attention centers. The descriptions from the various sources seem to diverge.

1. The posterior attention center

After Rostain.1

  • Noradrenergically controlled2
  • Tasks:
    • Recognition of new stimuli
    • Use of warnings to increase attention and task completion3
    • Vigilance = alertness = continuous attention with a monotonous stimulus frequency
    • Orientation reactions
  • Components
    • Right (dorsal) parietal lobe
    • Colliculi superiores
    • Pulvinar (posterior part of the thalamus)
  • Activation occurs noradrenergically through
    • Nucleus coeruleus

Dopaminergic drugs only address the functions of the anterior attention center, noradrenergic drugs influence the functions controlled by the posterior attention center in the parietal cortex.

2. Two frontoparietal attention centers

Corbetta et al and Kim distinguish 2 frontoparietal attention networks 45
In idle mode, both networks operate separately.
The activated dorsal network (focused attention, concentration) suppresses the ventral network to prevent reorientation to distracting events.
Joint activation by unexpected important events that cause a refocusing of attention.

2.1. Dorsal frontoparietal attention centers

  • The dorsal frontoparietal attention network controls
    • Focusing attention on central, expected and exploitable stimuli (concentration)
    • Linking stimuli and reactions
    • Top-down attention control
    • Noradrenaline acts on the dorsal (posterior) attention center.2
    • Dorsal fronto-parietal brain regions involved in4
      • Intraparietal sulcus
      • Lobulus parietalis superior
        • Part of the parietal lobe of the cerebrum, also known as the cortical sensory subfield
      • Frontal eye fields
      • Visual regions of the occipital cortex

2.2. Ventral frontoparietal attention centers

  • The ventral frontoparietal attention network controls
    • Interruption of ongoing activities and their resumption (distractibility)
    • Redirecting attention to peripheral, unexpected (e.g. alarming) and explorable stimuli (task switching)
    • Destruction of noradrenaline receptors causes increased distractibility6
    • Control noradrenergic via locus coeruleus system78
      • Phasic noradrenaline from the locus coeruleus activates the arousal-dependent sensory and cognitive processing of conspicuous information, such as pain or startle stimuli, via the ventral attention network9, and thereby regulates various attentional functions during task execution.10
    • Ventral brain regions involved in:4
      • Supramarginal gyrus
      • Superior temporal gyrus
      • Medium and inferior PFC

3. The anterior (ventral) attention center

According to Rostain1 and Peteren, Posner, who described this as the third (“executive”) center of attention.8

  • Dopaminergically controlled2
  • Tasks:
    • Attention control, including control of the individual parts of the brain that process perceptions (reading, seeing, understanding words, etc.)
    • Working memory
    • Non-focused attention
    • Stimulus inhibition
    • Executive functions = central management system of the brain
      • Organization
      • Set priorities
      • Activation
      • Integration
      • Self-control
        Modulation and control takes place in subcortical structures, primarily the striatum and thalamus
  • Components:
    • ACC
    • PFC

  1. Rostain (2015): The Neurobiology of ADHD, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, ab 00:06:10


  3. Boxhoorn, Bast, Supèr, Polzer, Cholemkery, Freitag (2019): Pupil dilation during visuospatial orienting differentiates between autism spectrum disorder and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2019 Dec 18. doi: 10.1111/jcpp.13179.

  4. Corbetta M, Patel G, Shulman GL (2008): The reorienting system of the human brain: from environment to theory of mind. Neuron. 2008 May 8;58(3):306-24. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2008.04.017. PMID: 18466742; PMCID: PMC2441869.

  5. Kim H (2014): Involvement of the dorsal and ventral attention networks in oddball stimulus processing: a meta-analysis. Hum Brain Mapp. 2014 May;35(5):2265-84. doi: 10.1002/hbm.22326. PMID: 23900833; PMCID: PMC6868981. METASTUDY

  6. Trott, Wirth (2000): Die Pharmakotherapie der hyperkinetischen Störungen; in: Steinhausen (Herausgeber): Hyperkinetische Störungen bei Kindern, Jugendlichen und Erwachsenen, 2. Aufl., Seite 215

  7. Aston-Jones G, Cohen JD (2005): An integrative theory of locus coeruleus-norepinephrine function: adaptive gain and optimal performance. Annu Rev Neurosci. 2005;28:403-50. doi: 10.1146/annurev.neuro.28.061604.135709. PMID: 16022602. REVIEW

  8. Petersen SE, Posner MI. The attention system of the human brain: 20 years after. Annu Rev Neurosci. 2012;35:73-89. doi: 10.1146/annurev-neuro-062111-150525. PMID: 22524787; PMCID: PMC3413263. REVIEW

  9. Vazey EM, Moorman DE, Aston-Jones G (2018): Phasic locus coeruleus activity regulates cortical encoding of salience information. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2018 Oct 2;115(40):E9439-E9448. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1803716115. PMID: 30232259; PMCID: PMC6176602.

  10. Sara SJ, Bouret S (2012): Orienting and reorienting: the locus coeruleus mediates cognition through arousal. Neuron. 2012 Oct 4;76(1):130-41. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2012.09.011. PMID: 23040811. REVIEW

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