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Concept: Frontal lobe


The posterior parietal cortex (PPC) has an important role in many cognitive behaviours; however, the neural circuit dynamics underlying PPC function are not well understood. Here we optically imaged the spatial and temporal activity patterns of neuronal populations in mice performing a PPC-dependent task that combined a perceptual decision and memory-guided navigation in a virtual environment. Individual neurons had transient activation staggered relative to one another in time, forming a sequence of neuronal activation spanning the entire length of a task trial. Distinct sequences of neurons were triggered on trials with opposite behavioural choices and defined divergent, choice-specific trajectories through a state space of neuronal population activity. Cells participating in the different sequences and at distinct time points in the task were anatomically intermixed over microcircuit length scales (<100 micrometres). During working memory decision tasks, the PPC may therefore perform computations through sequence-based circuit dynamics, rather than long-lived stable states, implemented using anatomically intermingled microcircuits.

Concepts: Nervous system, Psychology, Neuron, Cognition, Cerebrum, Frontal lobe, Parietal lobe, Posterior parietal cortex


Following brain lesions, previously normal patients sometimes exhibit criminal behavior. Although rare, these cases can lend unique insight into the neurobiological substrate of criminality. Here we present a systematic mapping of lesions with known temporal association to criminal behavior, identifying 17 lesion cases. The lesion sites were spatially heterogeneous, including the medial prefrontal cortex, orbitofrontal cortex, and different locations within the bilateral temporal lobes. No single brain region was damaged in all cases. Because lesion-induced symptoms can come from sites connected to the lesion location and not just the lesion location itself, we also identified brain regions functionally connected to each lesion location. This technique, termed lesion network mapping, has recently identified regions involved in symptom generation across a variety of lesion-induced disorders. All lesions were functionally connected to the same network of brain regions. This criminality-associated connectivity pattern was unique compared with lesions causing four other neuropsychiatric syndromes. This network includes regions involved in morality, value-based decision making, and theory of mind, but not regions involved in cognitive control or empathy. Finally, we replicated our results in a separate cohort of 23 cases in which a temporal relationship between brain lesions and criminal behavior was implied but not definitive. Our results suggest that lesions in criminals occur in different brain locations but localize to a unique resting state network, providing insight into the neurobiology of criminal behavior.

Concepts: Neuroanatomy, Brain, Cerebral cortex, Cerebrum, Limbic system, Crime, Frontal lobe, Premotor cortex


Drug-related cues induce craving, which may perpetuate drug use or trigger relapse in addicted individuals. Craving is also under the influence of other factors in daily life, such as drug availability and self-control. Neuroimaging studies using drug cue paradigms have shown frontal lobe involvement in this contextual influence on cue reactivity, but have not clarified how and which frontal area accounts for this phenomenon. We explored frontal lobe contributions to cue-induced drug craving under different intertemporal drug availability conditions by combining transcranial magnetic stimulation and functional magnetic resonance imaging in smokers. We hypothesized that the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) regulates craving during changes in intertemporal availability. Subjective craving was greater when cigarettes were immediately available, and this effect was eliminated by transiently inactivating the DLPFC with transcranial magnetic stimulation. Functional magnetic resonance imaging demonstrated that the signal most proportional to subjective craving was located in the medial orbitofrontal cortex across all contexts, whereas the DLPFC most strongly encoded intertemporal availability information. The craving-related signal in the medial orbitofrontal cortex was attenuated by inactivation of the DLPFC, particularly when cigarettes were immediately available. Inactivation of the DLPFC also reduced craving-related signals in the anterior cingulate and ventral striatum, areas implicated in transforming value signals into action. These findings indicate that DLPFC builds up value signals based on knowledge of drug availability, and support a model wherein aberrant circuitry linking dorsolateral prefrontal and orbitofrontal cortices may underlie addiction.

Concepts: Neuroanatomy, Brain, Cerebrum, Addiction, Limbic system, Attention versus memory in prefrontal cortex, Frontal lobe, Dorsolateral prefrontal cortex


Both situational (e.g., perceived power) and sustained social factors (e.g., cultural stereotypes) are known to affect how people academically perform, particularly in the domain of mathematics. The ability to compute even simple mathematics, such as addition, relies on distinct neural circuitry within the inferior parietal and inferior frontal lobes, brain regions where magnitude representation and addition are performed. Despite prior behavioral evidence of social influence on academic performance, little is known about whether or not temporarily heightening a person’s sense of power may influence the neural bases of math calculation. Here we primed female participants with either high or low power (LP) and then measured neural response while they performed exact and approximate math problems. We found that priming power affected math performance; specifically, females primed with high power (HP) performed better on approximate math calculation compared to females primed with LP. Furthermore, neural response within the left inferior frontal gyrus (IFG), a region previously associated with cognitive interference, was reduced for females in the HP compared to LP group. Taken together, these results indicate that even temporarily heightening a person’s sense of social power can increase their math performance, possibly by reducing cognitive interference during math performance.

Concepts: Psychology, Mathematics, Human brain, Cerebrum, Perception, Performance, Frontal lobe, Inferior frontal gyrus


Placebo analgesia is often conceptualized as a reward mechanism. However, by targeting only negative experiences, such as pain, placebo research may tell only half the story. We compared placebo improvement of painful touch (analgesia) with placebo improvement of pleasant touch (hyperhedonia) using functional MRI and a crossover design. Somatosensory processing was decreased during placebo analgesia and increased during placebo hyperhedonia. Both placebo responses were associated with similar patterns of activation increase in circuitry involved in emotion appraisal, including the pregenual anterior cingulate, medial orbitofrontal cortex, amygdala, accumbens, and midbrain structures. Importantly, placebo-induced coupling between the ventromedial prefrontal cortex and periaqueductal gray correlated with somatosensory decreases to painful touch and somatosensory increases to pleasant touch. These findings suggest that placebo analgesia and hyperhedonia are mediated by activation of shared emotion appraisal neurocircuitry, which down- or up-regulates early sensory processing, depending on whether the expectation is reduced pain or increased pleasure.

Concepts: Neuroanatomy, Brain, Cerebrum, Sensory system, Limbic system, Frontal lobe, Prefrontal cortex, Ventromedial prefrontal cortex


Humans and other animals are surprisingly adept at estimating the duration of temporal intervals, even without the use of watches and clocks. This ability is typically studied in the lab by asking observers to indicate their estimate of the time between two external sensory events. The results of such studies confirm that humans can accurately estimate durations on a variety of time scales. Although many brain areas are thought to contribute to the representation of elapsed time, recent neurophysiological studies have linked the parietal cortex in particular to the perception of sub-second time intervals. In this Primer, we describe previous work on parietal cortex and time perception, and we highlight the findings of a study published in this issue of PLOS Biology, in which Schneider and Ghose [1] characterize single-neuron responses during performance of a novel “Temporal Production” task. During temporal production, the observer must track the passage of time without anticipating any external sensory event, and it appears that the parietal cortex may use a unique strategy to support this type of measurement.

Concepts: Time, Psychology, Cerebrum, Visual system, Frontal lobe, Cultural studies, CLOCK, Prince


The lateral prefrontal and orbitofrontal cortices have both been implicated in emotion regulation, but their distinct roles in regulation of negative emotion remain poorly understood. To address this issue we enrolled 58 participants in an fMRI study in which participants were instructed to reappraise both negative and neutral stimuli. This design allowed us to separately study activations reflecting cognitive processes associated with reappraisal in general and activations specifically related to reappraisal of negative emotion. Our results confirmed that both the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (DLPFC) and the lateral orbitofrontal cortex (OFC) contribute to emotion regulation through reappraisal. However, activity in the DLPFC was related to reappraisal independently of whether negative or neutral stimuli were reappraised, whereas the lateral OFC was uniquely related to reappraisal of negative stimuli. We suggest that relative to the lateral OFC, the DLPFC serves a more general role in emotion regulation, perhaps by reflecting the cognitive demand that is inherent to the regulation task.

Concepts: Neuroanatomy, Brain, Cerebrum, Limbic system, Attention versus memory in prefrontal cortex, Frontal lobe, Dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, Brodmann area


Numerous functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) studies have identified multiple cortical regions that are involved in face processing in the human brain. However, few studies have characterized the face-processing network as a functioning whole. In this study, we used fMRI to identify face-selective regions in the entire brain and then explore the hierarchical structure of the face-processing network by analyzing functional connectivity among these regions. We identified twenty-five regions mainly in the occipital, temporal and frontal cortex that showed a reliable response selective to faces (versus objects) across participants and across scan sessions. Furthermore, these regions were clustered into three relatively independent sub-networks in a face-recognition task on the basis of the strength of functional connectivity among them. The functionality of the sub-networks likely corresponds to the recognition of individual identity, retrieval of semantic knowledge and representation of emotional information. Interestingly, when the task was switched to object recognition from face recognition, the functional connectivity between the inferior occipital gyrus and the rest of the face-selective regions were significantly reduced, suggesting that this region may serve as an entry node in the face-processing network. In sum, our study provides empirical evidence for cognitive and neural models of face recognition and helps elucidate the neural mechanisms underlying face recognition at the network level.

Concepts: Central nervous system, Brain, Human brain, Magnetic resonance imaging, Cerebral cortex, Cerebrum, Frontal lobe, Face perception


Adopting an unusual posture can sometimes give rise to paradoxical experiences. For example, the subjective ordering of successive unseen tactile stimuli delivered to the two arms can be affected when people cross them. A growing body of evidence now highlights the role played by the parietal cortex in spatio-temporal information processing when sensory stimuli are delivered to the body or when actions are executed; however, little is known about the neural basis of such paradoxical feelings resulting from such unusual limb positions. Here, we demonstrate increased fMRI activation in the left posterior parietal cortex when human participants adopted a crossed hands posture with their eyes closed. Furthermore, by assessing tactile temporal order judgments (TOJs) in the same individuals, we observed a positive association between activity in this area and the degree of reversal in TOJs resulting from crossing arms. The strongest positive association was observed in the left intraparietal sulcus. This result implies that the left posterior parietal cortex may be critically involved in monitoring limb position and in spatio-temporal binding when serial events are delivered to the limbs.

Concepts: Cerebrum, Visual system, Middle cerebral artery, Frontal lobe, Parietal lobe, Intraparietal sulcus, Posterior parietal cortex, Hemispatial neglect


In humans recognition memory deficits, a typical feature of diencephalic amnesia, have been tentatively linked to mediodorsal thalamic nucleus (MD) damage. Animal studies have occasionally investigated the role of the MD in single-item recognition, but have not systematically analyzed its involvement in other recognition memory processes. In Experiment 1 rats with bilateral excitotoxic lesions in the MD or the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) were tested in tasks that assessed single-item recognition (novel object preference), associative recognition memory (object-in-place), and recency discrimination (recency memory task). Experiment 2 examined the functional importance of the interactions between the MD and mPFC using disconnection techniques. Unilateral excitotoxic lesions were placed in both the MD and the mPFC in either the same (MD + mPFC Ipsi) or opposite hemispheres (MD + mPFC Contra group). Bilateral lesions in the MD or mPFC impaired object-in-place and recency memory tasks, but had no effect on novel object preference. In Experiment 2 the MD + mPFC Contra group was significantly impaired in the object-in-place and recency memory tasks compared with the MD + mPFC Ipsi group, but novel object preference was intact. Thus, connections between the MD and mPFC are critical for recognition memory when the discriminations involve associative or recency information. However, the rodent MD is not necessary for single-item recognition memory.

Concepts: Brain, Cerebrum, Frontal lobe, Thalamus, Prefrontal cortex, Medial dorsal nucleus