Cross-hemispheric collaboration and segregation associated with task difficulty as revealed by structural and functional connectivity.
Although it is known that brain regions in one hemisphere may interact very closely with their corresponding contralateral regions (collaboration) or operate relatively independent of them (segregation), the specific brain regions (where) and conditions (how) associated with collaboration or segregation are largely unknown. We investigated these issues using a split field-matching task in which participants matched the meaning of words or the visual features of faces presented to the same (unilateral) or to different (bilateral) visual fields. Matching difficulty was manipulated by varying the semantic similarity of words or the visual similarity of faces. We assessed the white matter using the fractional anisotropy (FA) measure provided by diffusion tensor imaging (DTI) and cross-hemispheric communication in terms of fMRI-based connectivity between homotopic pairs of cortical regions. For both perceptual and semantic matching, bilateral trials became faster than unilateral trials as difficulty increased (bilateral processing advantage, BPA). The study yielded three novel findings. First, whereas FA in anterior corpus callosum (genu) correlated with word-matching BPA, FA in posterior corpus callosum (splenium-occipital) correlated with face-matching BPA. Second, as matching difficulty intensified, cross-hemispheric functional connectivity (CFC) increased in domain-general frontopolar cortex (for both word and face matching) but decreased in domain-specific ventral temporal lobe regions (temporal pole for word matching and fusiform gyrus for face matching). Last, a mediation analysis linking DTI and fMRI data showed that CFC mediated the effect of callosal FA on BPA. These findings clarify the mechanisms by which the hemispheres interact to perform complex cognitive tasks.
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