Visual Map Function in Humans: Visual Attention and Cognitive Training Using Virtual Reality

Kyle Cheung
Nayomi Camilus
Monica Nido - Ophthalmologist
Sam Markowitz - Ophthalmologist

The Problem:  

The superior colliculus is a key structure in the control of overt and covert visual attention involving multi-sensory processing (visual and auditive) that allows accurate and fast detection and location in space of new stimuli.  We recently showed in mouse that defective visual maps in the superior colliculus lead to attention deficit-like symptoms accompanied by a dysregulation of a neurotransmitter, noradrenaline. Moreover, head trauma, aging or neurodegenerative diseases all affect the efficiency of stimuli detection and attention to various degree. Cognitive training using multiple object-tracking tasks, involving overt and covert visual attention, increases the quality and the speed of detection in athletes and healthy elderly. Such training requires a complex setup made of large displays and computers that can only be found in laboratory settings. Moreover, the technology currently used is outdated, generating an artificial visual environment irrelevant to everyday life.

The Questions:

Can we develop and improve 3D-multiple object tracking tasks on a convenient and easy-to-
use device providing a more realistic environment combining visual and
auditory information? Will this innovative cognitive training increase/restore visual attention ability in elderly or patients suffering from head trauma, low vision or
neurodegenerative diseases?



The Approach:

Based on a 3D-multiple object paradigm called neurotracker, we will collaborate with NeuroPowertrain, a company developing cognitive training tools, to develop a virtual reality application, Neurotrain, loaded on the newly released Oculus Go virtual reality headset. This all-in-one stand-alone virtual reality device will allow patients and subjects to perform cognitive training. Clinical studies will use this application to provide different paradigms and tasks which stimulate either overt attention, covert attention or both in specific populations of patients (elderly, brain-injured patients, age-related macular degeneration, …). Objective (standardized attentional tasks) and subjective (patient questionnaires) measurements will be performed before, during and after the cognitive training program to evaluate the effect of Neurotrain virtual reality training.

Discoveries and Innovation:

Mathis C, Savier E, Bott JB, Clesse D, Bevins N, Sage-Ciocca D, Geiger K, Gilet A, Laux-Biehlman A, Goumon Y, Lacaud A, Lelievre V, Kelche C, Cassel JC, Pfrieger FW and Reber M. (2015) Defective response inhibition and collicular noradrenaline enrichment in mice with duplicated retinotopic map in the superior colliculus. Brain Struct. Func. 220:1573-84.