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Keywords:

  • brain maturation;
  • sustained attention;
  • cognitive development;
  • diffusion tensor imaging;
  • fractional anisotropy

Sustained attention develops during childhood and has been linked to the right fronto-parietal cortices in functional imaging studies; however, less is known about its relation to white matter (WM) characteristics. Here we investigated whether the microstructure of the WM underlying and connecting the right fronto-parietal cortices was associated with sustained attention performance in a group of 76 typically developing children aged 7–13 years. Sustained attention was assessed using a rapid visual information processing paradigm. The two behavioral measures of interest were the sensitivity index d′ and the coefficient of variation in reaction times (RTCV). Diffusion-weighted imaging was performed. Mean fractional anisotropy (FA) was extracted from the WM underlying right dorsolateral prefrontal (DLPFC) and parietal cortex (PC), and the right superior longitudinal fasciculus (SLF), as well as equivalent anatomical regions-of-interest (ROIs) in the left hemisphere and mean global WM FA. When analyzed collectively, right hemisphere ROIs FA was significantly associated with d′ independently of age. Follow-up analyses revealed that only FA of right SLF and the superior part of the right PC contributed significantly to this association. RTCV was significantly associated with right superior PC FA, but not with right SLF FA. Observed associations remained significant after controlling for FA of equivalent left hemisphere ROIs or global mean FA. In conclusion, better sustained attention performance was associated with higher FA of WM in regions connecting right frontal and parietal cortices. Further studies are needed to clarify to which extent these associations are driven by maturational processes, stable characteristics and/or experience. Hum Brain Mapp 34:3216–3232, 2013. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.