Brain Regions

Fronto-parietal Network

Older news items (pre-2010) brought over from the old website

December 2008

Attention, it’s all about connecting

An imaging study in which volunteers spent an hour identifying letters that flashed on a screen has shed light on what happens when our attention wanders. Reduced communication in the ventral fronto-parietal network, critical for attention, was found to predict slower response times 5-8 seconds before the letters were presented.

Daniel Weissman presented the results at the 38th annual meeting of the Society for Neuroscience, held Nov. 15 to 19 in Washington, DC.

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20026865.600-bored-your-brain-is-disconnecting.html

October 2007

Brain activity distinguishes false from true recollection

Although memory confidence and accuracy tend to be positively correlated, people sometimes remember with high confidence events that never happened. A new imaging study reveals that, in cases of high confidence, responses were associated with greater activity in the medial temporal lobe when the event really happened, but with greater activity in the frontoparietal region when the memory was false. Both of these regions are involved in event memory, but the medial temporal lobe focuses on specific facts about the event, while the fronto-parietal network is more likely to process the global gist of the event.

Kim, H. & Cabeza, R. 2007. Trusting Our Memories: Dissociating the Neural Correlates of Confidence in Veridical versus Illusory Memories. Journal of Neuroscience, 27, 12190–12197.

http://www.physorg.com/news113671556.html

September 2007

Brain network related to intelligence identified

A review of 37 imaging studies may have finally answered an age-old question: where is intelligence. Following on from recent evidence suggesting that intelligence is related to how well information travels throughout the brain, the researchers believe they have identified the stations along the routes intelligent information processing takes. These stations primarily involve areas in the frontal and the parietal lobes, many of which are involved in attention and memory, and more complex functions such as language. Basically, the researchers theorize that your level of intelligence is a function of how well these areas communicate with each other. It’s particularly interesting to note that these various imaging studies had remarkably consistent results despite the different definitions of intelligence used in them.

Jung, R.E. & Haier, R.J. 2007. The Parieto-Frontal Integration Theory (P-FIT) of intelligence: Converging neuroimaging evidence. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 30(2), 135-154.

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2007-09/uoc--bnr091007.php

Somatosensory Cortex

Older news items (pre-2010) brought over from the old website

November 2005

What we perceive is not what we sense

Perceiving a simple touch may depend as much on memory, attention, and expectation as on the stimulus itself. A study involving macaque monkeys has found that the monkeys’ perception of a touch (varied in intensity) was more closely correlated with activity in the medial premotor cortex (MPC), a region of the brain's frontal lobe known to be involved in making decisions about sensory information, than activity in the primary somatosensory cortex (which nevertheless accurately recorded the intensity of the sensation). MPC neurons began to fire before the stimulus even touched the monkeys' fingertips — presumably because the monkey was expecting the stimulus.

Lafuente, V. & Romo, R. 2005. Neuronal correlates of subjective sensory experience. Nature Neuroscience, 8, 1698-1703.

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2005-11/hhmi-tsi110405.php

February 2003

Another step in understanding how memories are formed

The electrical activity of individual neurons in the brains of two adult rhesus monkeys was monitored while the monkeys played a memory-based video game in which an image pops up on the computer screen with four targets—white dots—superimposed on it. The monkeys’ task was to learn which target on which image was associated with a reward (a drop of their favorite fruit juice). Dramatic changes in the activity of some hippocampal neurons, which the scientists called "changing cells", paralleled their learning, indicating that these neurons are involved in the initial formation of new associative memories. In some of the cells, activity continued after the animal had learned the association, suggesting that these cells may participate in the eventual storage of the associations in long-term memory.

Wirth, S., Yanike, M., Frank, L.M., Smith, A.C., Brown, E.N. & Suzuki, W.A. 2003. Single Neurons in the Monkey Hippocampus and Learning of New Associations. Science, 300, 1578-1581.

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2003-06/nyu-fir060503.php
http://tinyurl.com/ftob

Superior Parietal Cortex

Older news items (pre-2010) brought over from the old website

September 2008

From 12 years onward you learn differently

Behavioral studies have found eight-year-olds learn primarily from positive feedback, with negative feedback having little effect. Twelve-year-olds, however, are better able to process negative feedback, and use it to learn from their mistakes. Now brain imaging reveals that the brain regions responsible for cognitive control (specifically, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and superior parietal cortex, and the pre-supplementary motor area/anterior cingulate cortex) react strongly to positive feedback and scarcely respond at all to negative feedback in children of eight and nine, but the opposite is the case in children of 11 to 13 years, and also in adults.

van Duijvenvoorde, A.C.K. et al. 2008. Evaluating the Negative or Valuing the Positive? Neural Mechanisms Supporting Feedback-Based Learning across Development. The Journal of Neuroscience, 28, 9495-9503.

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2008-09/lu-f1y092508.php
http://www.physorg.com/news141554842.html

February 2004

Exercise improves attention and decision-making among seniors

An imaging study involving adults ranging in age from 58 to 78 before and after a six-month program of aerobic exercise, found specific functional differences in the middle-frontal and superior parietal regions of the brain that changed with improved aerobic fitness. Consistent with the functions of these brain regions, those who participated in the aerobic-exercise intervention significantly improved their performance on a computer-based decision-making task. Those doing toning and stretching exercises did increase activation in some areas of the brain but not in those tied to better performance. Their performance on the task was not significantly different after the exercise program. The aerobic exercise used in the study involved gradually increasing periods of walking over three months. For the final three months of the intervention program, each subject walked briskly for 45 minutes in three sessions each week.

[399] Elavsky S, Colcombe SJ, Kramer AF, Erickson KI, Scalf P, McAuley E, Cohen NJ, Webb A, Jerome GJ, Marquez DX. Cardiovascular fitness, cortical plasticity, and aging. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America [Internet]. 2004 ;101(9):3316 - 3321. Available from: http://www.pnas.org/content/101/9/3316.abstract

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2004-02/uoia-esf021104.php

January 2004

Training improves working memory capacity

Working memory capacity has traditionally been thought to be constant. Recent studies, however, suggest that working memory can be improved by training. In this recent imaging study, it was found that adults who practiced working memory tasks for 5 weeks showed increased brain activity in the middle frontal gyrus and superior and inferior parietal cortices. These changes could be evidence of training-induced plasticity in the neural systems that underlie working memory.

Olesen, P.J., Westerberg, H. & Klingberg, T. 2004. Increased prefrontal and parietal activity after training of working memory. Nature Neuroscience, 7(1), 75-9.

http://www.nature.com/cgi-taf/DynaPage.taf?file=/neuro/journal/v7/n1/abs/nn1165.html

Precuneus

Older news items (pre-2010) brought over from the old website

October 2004

How false memories are formed

An imaging study has attempted to pinpoint how people form a memory for something that didn't actually happen. The study measured brain activity in people who looked at pictures of objects or imagined other objects they were asked to visualize. Three brain areas (precuneus, right inferior parietal cortex and anterior cingulate) showed greater responses in the study phase to words that would later be falsely remembered as having been presented with photos, compared to words that were not later misremembered as having been presented with photos. Brain activity produced in response to viewed pictures also predicted which pictures would be subsequently remembered. Two brain regions in particular -- the left hippocampus and the left prefrontal cortex -- were activated more strongly for pictures that were later remembered than for pictures that were forgotten. The new findings directly showed that different brain areas are critical for accurate memories for visual objects than for false remembering -- for forming a memory for an imagined object that is later remembered as a perceived object.

Gonsalves, B., Reber, P.J., Gitelman, D.R., Parrish, T.B., Mesulam, M-M. & Paller, K.A. 2004. Neural Evidence That Vivid Imagining Can Lead to False Remembering. Psychological Science, 15 (10), 655-660.

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2004-10/nu-nrp101404.php
http://www.northwestern.edu/newscenter/stories/2004/10/kenneth.html

Posterior parietal cortex

Older news items (pre-2010) brought over from the old website

June 2009

Study finds autistics better at problem-solving

A study involving 15 autistics and 18 non-autistics, aged 14 to 36 and IQ-matched, has found that while both groups completed patterns in a complex problem-solving test (the widely-used Raven's Standard Progressive Matrices) with equal accuracy, the autistics responded significantly faster, and showed a different pattern of brain activity. Specifically, they showed increased activity in extrastriate areas, and decreased activity in the lateral prefrontal cortex and the medial posterior parietal cortex — suggesting visual processing mechanisms may play a more prominent role in reasoning in autistics. The differences between groups did not appear when participants performed a simpler pattern-matching task.

Soulières, I. et al. 2009. Enhanced visual processing contributes to matrix reasoning in autism. Human Brain Mapping, Published Online June 15.

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-06/uom-sfa061609.php

April 2009

Individual differences in working memory capacity depend on two factors

A new computer model adds to our understanding of working memory, by showing that working memory can be increased by the action of the prefrontal cortex in reinforcing activity in the parietal cortex (where the information is temporarily stored). The idea is that the prefrontal cortex sends out a brief stimulus to the parietal cortex that generates a reverberating activation in a small subpopulation of neurons, while inhibitory interactions with neurons further away prevents activation of the entire network. This lateral inhibition is also responsible for limiting the mnemonic capacity of the parietal network (i.e. provides the limit on your working memory capacity). The model has received confirmatory evidence from an imaging study involving 25 volunteers. It was found that individual differences in performance on a short-term visual memory task were correlated with the degree to which the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex was activated and its interconnection with the parietal cortex. In other words, your working memory capacity is determined by both storage capacity (in the posterior parietal cortex) and prefrontal top-down control. The findings may help in the development of ways to improve working memory capacity, particularly when working memory is damaged.

Edin, F. et al. 2009. Mechanism for top-down control of working memory capacity. PNAS, 106 (16), 6802-6807.

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-04/i-id-aot040109.php

August 2007

Gene predicts better outcome as cortex normalizes in teens with ADHD

Recent research found that thickening of brain areas that control attention in the right cortex (right orbitofrontal/inferior prefrontal and posterior parietal cortex ) was associated with better clinical outcomes in ADHD. A new study has found that these brain areas are thinnest in those who carry a particular variant of a gene. The version of the dopamine D4 receptor gene, called the 7-repeat variant, was found in nearly a quarter of youth with ADHD and about one-sixth of the healthy controls. Although this particular gene version increased risk for ADHD, it also made it more likely that the areas would thicken during adolescence, with consequent improvement in behaviour and performance.

Shaw, P. et al. 2007. Polymorphisms of the Dopamine D4 Receptor, Clinical Outcome, and Cortical Structure in Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Archives of General Psychiatry, 64, 921-931.

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2007-08/niom-gpb080107.php

April 2004

Why working memory capacity is so limited

There’s an old parlor game whereby someone brings into a room a tray covered with a number of different small objects, which they show to the people in the room for one minute, before whisking it away again. The participants are then required to write down as many objects as they can remember. For those who perform badly at this type of thing, some consolation from researchers: it’s not (entirely) your fault. We do actually have a very limited storage capacity for visual short-term memory.
Now visual short-term memory is of course vital for a number of functions, and reflecting this, there is an extensive network of brain structures supporting this type of memory. However, a new imaging study suggests that the limited storage capacity is due mainly to just one of these regions: the posterior parietal cortex. An interesting distinction can be made here between registering information and actually “holding it in mind”. Activity in the posterior parietal cortex strongly correlated with the number of objects the subjects were able to remember, but only if the participants were asked to remember. In contrast, regions of the visual cortex in the occipital lobe responded differently to the number of objects even when participants were not asked to remember what they had seen.

[598] Todd JJ, Marois R. Capacity limit of visual short-term memory in human posterior parietal cortex. Nature [Internet]. 2004 ;428(6984):751 - 754. Available from: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15085133

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2004-04/vu-slo040704.php
http://tinyurl.com/2jzwe (Telegraph article)

February 2004

More complex brain may have pre-dated Homo genus

New research supports Raymond Dart’s suggestion (in 1925) that the human brain started evolving its unique characteristics much earlier than has previously been supposed. One of the differences between human and ape brains is the position of the primary visual striate cortex (PVC), an area of the brain devoted exclusively to vision. In the ape brain, this is situated further forward than it is in human brains, making the PVC larger. It has been claimed that the PVC only decreased in size once the brain had grown substantially in size – when big-brained Homo (the hominid group that includes humans) appeared around 2.4 million years ago. However, new examination of an endocast of the brain of an Australopithecus africanus (Australopithecines pre-dated Homo, and their brains were similar in size to those of chimpanzees) has found evidence of a decreased PVC. This suggests an increase in the region lying in front of the PVC - the posterior parietal cerebral cortex, which is associated in humans with a variety of complex behaviors such as the appreciation of objects and their qualities, facial recognition and social communication.

Holloway, R.L., Clarke, R.J. & Tobias, P.V. 2004. Posterior lunate sulcus in Australopithecus africanus: was Dart right? In Press, Corrected Proof, Available online 28 January 2004

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/sci/tech/3496549.stm

Intraparietal Sulcus

Older news items (pre-2010) brought over from the old website

September 2009

Learning to juggle grows white matter

A study in which 24 young adults practiced juggling for half an hour a day for six weeks found that they grew more white matter in the area underlying the intraparietal sulcus. This occurred in all the jugglers, regardless of skill, suggesting it's the learning process itself that is important. Previous research has found that juggling increases grey matter. After four weeks without juggling, the new white matter remained and the amount of grey matter had even increased.

[241] Scholz J, Klein MC, Behrens TEJ, Johansen-Berg H. Training induces changes in white-matter architecture. Nat Neurosci [Internet]. 2009 ;12(11):1370 - 1371. Available from: http://dx.doi.org/10.1038/nn.2412

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn17957-learning-to-juggle-grows-brain-networks-for-good.html

December 2006

Watching with intent to repeat ignites key learning area of brain

Observing an activity engaged the same brain regions involved in actually performing the motor sequence, but observing with the intention of later replicating the activity increased the degree of activity in those regions and the greater the activity in one of these regions (the intraparietal sulcus), the better the actions were subsequently reproduced.

Frey, S.H. & Gerry, V.E. 2006. Modulation of Neural Activity during Observational Learning of Actions and Their Sequential Orders. Journal of Neuroscience, 26, 13194-13201.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/12/061222093112.htm 
http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2006-12/uoo-wwi122006.php
http://www.geron.org/press/specialexercise.htm

May 2005

Brain networks change according to cognitive task

Using a newly released method to analyze functional magnetic resonance imaging, researchers have demonstrated that the interconnections between different parts of the brain are dynamic and not static. Moreover, the brain region that performs the integration of information shifts depending on the task being performed. The study involved two language tasks, in which subjects were asked to read individual words and then make a spelling or rhyming judgment. Imaging showed that the lateral temporal cortex (LTC) was active for the rhyming task, while the intraparietal sulcus (IPS) was active for the spelling task. The inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) and the fusiform gyrus (FG) were engaged by both tasks. However, Dynamic Causal Modeling (the new method for analyzing imaging data) revealed that the network took different configurations depending on the goal of the task, with each task preferentially strengthening the influences converging on the task-specific regions (LTC for rhyming, IPS for spelling). This suggests that task specific regions serve as convergence zones that integrate information from other parts of the brain. Additionally, switching between tasks led to changes in the influence of the IFG on the task-specific regions, suggesting the IFG plays a pivotal role in making task-specific regions more or less sensitive. This is consistent with previous studies showing that the IFG is active in many different language tasks and plays a role in integrating brain regions.

Bitan, T., Booth, J.R., Choy, J., Burman, D.D., Gitelman, D.R. & Mesulam, M-M. 2005. Shifts of Effective Connectivity within a Language Network during Rhyming and Spelling. Journal of Neuroscience, 25, 5397-5403.

May 2001

Significant brain differences between professional musicians trained at an early age and non-musicians

Research has revealed significant differences in the gray matter distribution between professional musicians trained at an early age and non-musicians, specifically in the primary sensorimotor regions, the left more than the right intraparietal sulcus region, left basal ganglia region, left posterior perisylvian region, and the cerebellum. It is most likely that this is due to intensive musical training at an early age, although it is also possible that the musicians were born with these differences, which led them to pursue musical training.

Schlaug, G. & Christian, G. Paper presented May 7 at the American Academy of Neurology's 53rd Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, PA.

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2001-05/AAoN-Mtdc-0705101.php

Inferior Parietal Lobule

Older news items (pre-2010) brought over from the old website

July 2008

Passive learning imprints on the brain just like active learning

New research adds to other recent studies showing that observation can act like actual practice in acquiring new motor skills. In a study where participants played a video game in which they had to move in a particular sequence to match the position of arrows on the screen (similar to the popular Dance Dance Revolution game), it was found that brain activity in the Action Observance Network (mostly in the inferior parietal and premotor cortices) was similar for dance sequences that were actively rehearsed daily for five days, and a different set of sequences that were passively observed for an equivalent amount of time, but declined for unfamiliar sequences.

Cross, E.S. et al. 2008. Sensitivity of the Action Observation Network to Physical and Observational Learning. Cerebral Cortex, Advance Access published on May 30, 2008. doi:10.1093/cercor/bhn083

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2008-07/dc-drr071408.php

June 2006

Language affects how math is done?

A comparison of activity in the brains of Chinese and English participants doing simple arithmetic using Arabic numbers has found that, although both groups utilised the inferior parietal cortex (an area connected to quantity representation and reading), English speakers displayed more activity in the language processing area of the brain, while Chinese speakers used the area of the brain that deals with processing visual information. There was no significant difference in the reaction time and accuracy of the Chinese and English-speaking volunteers. However, an earlier study comparing Canadian and Chinese students found that the latter were better at complex maths. The findings suggest that our native language, or different teaching methods, may influence the way we solve equations.

Tang, Y. et al. 2006. Arithmetic processing in the brain shaped by cultures. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA, Published online before print June 30, 2006.

Campbell, J.I.D. & Xue, Q. 2001. Cognitive arithmetic across cultures. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, 130(2), 299-315.

http://www.scenta.co.uk/scenta/news.cfm?cit_id=903050&FAArea1=widgets.content_view_1
http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn9422?DCMP=NLC-nletter&nsref=dn9422

October 2004

Learning languages increases gray matter density

An imaging study of 25 Britons who did not speak a second language, 25 people who had learned another European language before the age of five and 33 bilinguals who had learned a second language between 10 and 15 years old found that the density of the gray matter in the left inferior parietal cortex of the brain was greater in bilinguals than in those without a second language. The effect was particularly noticeable in the "early" bilinguals. The findings were replicated in a study of 22 native Italian speakers who had learned English as a second language between the ages of two and 34.

Mechelli, A., Crinion, J.T., Noppeney, U., O'doherty, J., Ashburner, J., Frackowiak, R.S. & Price, C.J. 2004. Neurolinguistics: Structural plasticity in the bilingual brain. Nature, 431, 757.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/3739690.stm

January 2003

Learning a sequence with explicit knowledge of that sequence involves same

Imaging studies have found that sequence learning accompanied with awareness of the sequence activates entirely different brain regions than learning without awareness of the sequence. It has not been clear to what extent these two forms of learning (declarative vs procedural) are independent. A new imaging study devised a situation where subjects were simultaneously learning different sequences under implicit or explicit instructions, in order to establish whether, as many have thought, declarative learning prevents learning in procedural memory systems. It was found that procedural learning activated the left prefrontal cortex, left inferior parietal cortex, and right putamen. These same regions were also active during declarative learning. It appears that, in a well-controlled situation where procedural and declarative learning are occurring simultaneously, the same neural network for procedural learning is active whether that learning is or is not accompanied by declarative knowledge. Declarative learning, however, activates many additional brain regions.

Willingham, D.B., Salidis, J. & Gabrieli, J.D.E. 2003. Direct Comparison of Neural Systems Mediating Conscious and Unconscious Skill Learning. Journal of Neurophysiology, 88, 1451-1460.

Parietal Lobe

Older news items (pre-2010) brought over from the old website

September 2009

Tetris increases gray matter and improves brain efficiency

In a study in which 26 adolescent girls played the computer game Tetris for half an hour every day for three months, their brains compared to controls increased grey matter in Brodmann Area 6 in the left frontal lobe and BAs 22 and 38 in the left temporal lobe — areas involved in planning complex coordinated movements, and coordinating sensory information. Their brains also showed greater efficiency, but in different areas — ones associated with critical thinking, reasoning, and language, mostly in the right frontal and parietal lobes. The finding points to improved efficiency being unrelated to grey matter increases.

Haier, R.J. et al. 2009. MRI assessment of cortical thickness and functional activity changes in adolescent girls following three months of practice on a visual-spatial task. BMC Research Notes, 2, 174. 

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-09/bc-itg090109.php

Neural changes produced by learning to read revealed

Understanding how our brain structures change as we learn to read is difficult because of the confounding with age and the learning of other skills. Studying adult learners is also problematic because in most educated societies adult illiteracy is typically the result of learning impairments or poor health. Now a new study involving 20 former guerrillas in Colombia who are learning to read for the first time as adults has found that these late-literates showed a number of significant brain differences compared to matched adult illiterates, including more white matter between various regions, and more grey matter in various left temporal and occipital regions important for recognizing letter shapes and translating letters into speech sounds and their meanings. Particularly important were connections between the left and right angular gyri in the parietal lobe. While this area has long been known as important for reading, its function turns out to have been misinterpreted — it now appears its main role is in anticipating what we will see. The findings will help in understanding the causes of dyslexia.

Carreiras, M. et al. 2009. An anatomical signature for literacy. Nature, 461 (7266), 983-986.

http://www.physorg.com/news174744233.html

December 2008

Sex difference on spatial skill test linked to brain structure

It’s been well established that men (as a group) consistently out-perform women on spatial tasks. Research has also established that the parietal lobes in women tend to have proportionally more gray matter. Now a new study shows that the thicker cortex in the parietal lobe in women is associated with poorer mental rotation ability. It also reveals that the surface area of the parietal lobe is increased in men, compared to women, and this is directly related to better performance on mental rotation tasks. It also appears that, perhaps because the brain structure is different between men and women, the way the brain performs the task is different. While men appear able to globally rotate an object in space, women seem to do it piecemeal.

Koscik, T. et al. 2008. Sex differences in parietal lobe morphology: Relationship to mental rotation performance. Brain and Cognition, Article in Press

http://www.physorg.com/news148740976.html

March 2007

Disentangling attention

A new study provides more evidence that the ability to deliberately focus your attention is physically separate in the brain from the part that helps you filter out distraction. The study trained monkeys to take attention tests on a video screen in return for a treat of apple juice. When the monkeys voluntarily concentrated (‘top-down’ attention), the prefrontal cortex was active, but when something distracting grabbed their attention (‘bottom-up’ attention), the parietal cortex became active. The electrical activity in these two areas vibrated in synchrony as they signaled each other, but top-down attention involved synchrony that was stronger in the lower-frequencies and bottom-up attention involved higher frequencies. These findings may help us develop treatments for attention disorders.

Buschman, T.J. & Miller, E.K. 2007. Top-Down Versus Bottom-Up Control of Attention in the Prefrontal and Posterior Parietal Cortices. Science, 315 (5820), 1860-1862.

Right parietal lobe implicated in dyscalculia

By temporarily knocking out an area in the right parietal lobe (the right intraparietal sulcus), researchers have induced dyscalculia in normal subjects, providing strong evidence that dyscalculia is caused by malfunction in this area. These findings were further validated by testing participants suffering from developmental dyscalculia. Although less well-known, dyscalculia is as prevalent as dyslexia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (around 5%).

Kadosh, R.C. et al. 2007. Virtual Dyscalculia Induced by Parietal-Lobe TMS Impairs Automatic Magnitude Processing. Current Biology, online ahead of print March 22

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/03/070322132931.htm
http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2007-03/ucl-tro032107.php

April 2006

Fast language learners have more white matter in auditory region

An imaging study has found that fast language learners have more white matter in a region of the brain that’s critical for processing sound. The study involved 65 French adults in their twenties, who were asked to distinguish two closely related sounds (the French 'da' sound from the Hindi 'da' sound). There was considerable variation in people’s ability to learn to tell these sounds apart — the fastest could do it within 8 minutes; the slowest were still guessing randomly after 20 minutes. The 11 fastest and 10 slowest learners were then given brain scans, revealing that the fastest learners had, on average, 70% more white matter in the left Heschl's gyrus than the slowest learners, as well as a greater asymmetry in the parietal lobe (the left being bigger than the right).

Golestani, N., Molko, N., Dehaene, S., LeBihan, D. & Pallier, C. 2006. Brain Structure Predicts the Learning of Foreign Speech Sounds. Cerebral Cortex, Advance Access published on April 7, 2006

http://www.newscientist.com/article.ns?id=dn8964&print=true

June 2005

How sleep improves memory

While previous research has been conflicting, it does now seem clear that sleep consolidates learning of motor skills in particular. A new imaging study involving 12 young adults taught a sequence of skilled finger movements has found a dramatic shift in activity pattern when doing the task in those who were allowed to sleep during the 12 hour period before testing. Increased activity was found in the right primary motor cortex, medial prefrontal lobe, hippocampus and left cerebellum — this is assumed to support faster and more accurate motor output. Decreased activity was found in the parietal cortices, the left insular cortex, temporal pole and fronto-polar region — these are assumed to reflect less anxiety and a reduced need for conscious spatial monitoring. It’s suggested that this is one reason why infants need so much sleep — motor skill learning is a high priority at this age. The findings may also have implications for stroke patients and others who have suffered brain injuries.

Walker, M.P., Stickgold, R., Alsop, D., Gaab, N. & Schlaug, G. 2005. Sleep-dependent motor memory plasticity in the human brain.Neuroscience, 133 (4) , 911-917.

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2005-06/bidm-ssh062805.php

January 2005

IQ-related brain areas may differ in men and women

An imaging study of 48 men and women between 18 and 84 years old found that, although men and women performed equally on the IQ tests, the brain structures involved in intelligence appeared distinct. Compared with women, men had more than six times the amount of intelligence-related gray matter, while women had about nine times more white matter involved in intelligence than men did. Women also had a large proportion of their IQ-related brain matter (86% of white and 84% of gray) concentrated in the frontal lobes, while men had 90% of their IQ-related gray matter distributed equally between the frontal lobes and the parietal lobes, and 82% of their IQ-related white matter in the temporal lobes. The implications of all this are not clear, but it is worth noting that the volume of gray matter can increase with learning, and is thus a product of environment as well as genes. The findings also demonstrate that no single neuroanatomical structure determines general intelligence and that different types of brain designs are capable of producing equivalent intellectual performance.

Haier, R.J., Jung, R.E., Yeo, R.A., Head, K. & Alkire, M.T. 2005. The neuroanatomy of general intelligence: sex matters. NeuroImage, In Press, Corrected Proof, Available online 16 January 2005

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2005-01/uoc--iim012005.php
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2005/01/050121100142.htm

October 2004

Development of working memory with age

An imaging study of 20 healthy 8- to 30-year-olds has shed new light on the development of working memory. The study found that pre-adolescent children relied most heavily on the prefrontal cortex and parietal regions of the brain during the working memory task; adolescents used those regions plus the anterior cingulate; and in adults, a third area of the brain, the medial temporal lobe, was brought in to support the functions of the other areas. Adults performed best. The results support the view that a person's ability to have voluntary control over behavior improves with age because with development, additional brain processes are used.

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2004-10/uopm-dow102104.php

July 2004

Intelligence based on the volume of gray matter in certain brain regions

Confirming earlier suggestions, the most comprehensive structural brain-scan study of intelligence to date supports an association between general intelligence and the volume of gray matter tissue in certain regions of the brain. Because these regions are located throughout the brain, a single "intelligence center" is unlikely. It is likely that a person's mental strengths and weaknesses depend in large part on the individual pattern of gray matter across his or her brain. Although gray matter amounts are vital to intelligence levels, only about 6% of the brain’s gray matter appears related to IQ — intelligence seems related to an efficient use of relatively few structures. The structures that are important for intelligence are the same ones implicated in memory, attention and language. There are also age differences: in middle age, more of the frontal and parietal lobes are related to IQ; less frontal and more temporal areas are related to IQ in the younger adults. Previous research has shown the regional distribution of gray matter in humans is highly heritable. The findings also challenge the recent view that intelligence may be a reflection of more subtle characteristics of the brain, such as the speed at which nerve impulses travel in the brain, or the number of neuronal connections present. It may of course be that all of these are factors.

Haier, R.J., Jung, R.E., Yeo, R.A., Head, K. & Alkire, M.T. 2004. Structural brain variation and general intelligence. Neuroimage. In press. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neuroimage.2004.04.025

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2004/07/040720090419.htm
http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2004-07/uoc--hid071904.php

November 2003

Maturation of the human brain mapped

The progressive maturation of the human brain in childhood and adolescence has now been mapped. The initial overproduction of synapses in the gray matter that occurs after birth, is followed, for the most part just before puberty, with their systematic pruning. The mapping has confirmed that this maturation process occurs in different regions at different times, and has found that the normal gray matter loss begins first in the motor and sensory parts of the brain, and then slowly spreads downwards and forwards, to areas involved in spatial orientation, speech and language development, and attention (upper and lower parietal lobes), then to the areas involved in executive functioning, attention or motor coordination (frontal lobes), and finally to the areas that integrate these functions (temporal lobe). "The surprising thing is that the sequence in which the cortex matures appears to agree with regionally relevant milestones in cognitive development, and also reflects the evolutionary sequence in which brain regions were formed."

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2003-11/sfn-smm110803.php

November 2001

Differential effects of encoding strategy on brain activity patterns

Encoding and recognition of unfamiliar faces in young adults were examined using PET imaging to determine whether different encoding strategies would lead to differences in brain activity. It was found that encoding activated a primarily ventral system including bilateral temporal and fusiform regions and left prefrontal cortices, whereas recognition activated a primarily dorsal set of regions including right prefrontal and parietal areas. The type of encoding strategy produced different brain activity patterns. There was no effect of encoding strategy on brain activity during recognition. The left inferior prefrontal cortex was engaged during encoding regardless of strategy.

Bernstein, L.J., Beig, S., Siegenthaler, A.L. & Grady, C.L. 2002. The effect of encoding strategy on the neural correlates of memory for faces. Neuropsychologia, 40 (1), 86 - 98.

Anterior Cingulate

Older news items (pre-2010) brought over from the old website

August 2009

Overweight and obese elderly have smaller brains

Analysis of brain scans from 94 people in their 70s who were still "cognitively normal" five years after the scan has revealed that people with higher body mass indexes had smaller brains on average, with the frontal and temporal lobes particularly affected (specifically, in the frontal lobes, anterior cingulate gyrus, hippocampus, and thalamus, in obese people, and in the basal ganglia and corona radiate of the overweight). The brains of the 51 overweight people were, on average, 6% smaller than those of the normal-weight participants, and those of the 14 obese people were 8% smaller. To put it in more comprehensible, and dramatic terms: "The brains of overweight people looked eight years older than the brains of those who were lean, and 16 years older in obese people." However, overall brain volume did not differ between overweight and obese persons. As yet unpublished research by the same researchers indicates that exercise protects these same brain regions: "The most strenuous kind of exercise can save about the same amount of brain tissue that is lost in the obese."

Raji, C.A. et al. 2009. Brain structure and obesity. Human Brain Mapping, Published Online: Aug 6 2009

http://www.newscientist.com/article/mg20327222.400-expanding-waistlines-may-cause-shrinking-brains

May 2009

Brain's problem-solving function at work when we daydream

An imaging study has revealed that daydreaming is associated with an increase in activity in numerous brain regions, especially those regions associated with complex problem-solving. Until now it was thought that the brain's "default network" (which includes the medial prefrontal cortex, the posterior cingulate cortex and the temporoparietal junction) was the only part of the brain active when our minds wander. The new study has found that the "executive network" (including the lateral prefrontal cortex and the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex) is also active. Before this, it was thought that these networks weren’t active at the same time. It may be that mind wandering evokes a unique mental state that allows otherwise opposing networks to work in cooperation. It was also found that greater activation was associated with less awareness on the part of the subject that there mind was wandering.

Christoff, K. et al. 2009. Experience sampling during fMRI reveals default network and executive system contributions to mind wandering. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106 (21), 8719-8724.

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-05/uobc-bpf051109.php

September 2008

From 12 years onward you learn differently

Behavioral studies have found eight-year-olds learn primarily from positive feedback, with negative feedback having little effect. Twelve-year-olds, however, are better able to process negative feedback, and use it to learn from their mistakes. Now brain imaging reveals that the brain regions responsible for cognitive control (specifically, the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex and superior parietal cortex, and the pre-supplementary motor area/anterior cingulate cortex) react strongly to positive feedback and scarcely respond at all to negative feedback in children of eight and nine, but the opposite is the case in children of 11 to 13 years, and also in adults.

van Duijvenvoorde, A.C.K. et al. 2008. Evaluating the Negative or Valuing the Positive? Neural Mechanisms Supporting Feedback-Based Learning across Development. The Journal of Neuroscience, 28, 9495-9503.

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2008-09/lu-f1y092508.php
http://www.physorg.com/news141554842.html

December 2006

Neurons targeted by dementing illness may have evolved for complex social cognition

Special elongated nerve cells called spindle neurons, also known as Von Economo neurons (VENs), are found in two parts of the cerebral cortex known to be associated with social behavior, consciousness, and emotion (the anterior cingulate and fronto-insular cortex). They have only been found in humans and great apes, and, recently, whales. Because of this link with social behaviour, and because these brain regions are targeted by frontotemporal dementia, a recent study investigated whether VENs play a role in this type of dementia that causes people to lose inhibition in social situations. Autopsies revealed that among FTD sufferers, the anterior cingulate cortex had a dramatic reduction in the number of VENs compared to controls. In contrast, Alzheimer's patients had only a small and statistically insignificant reduction.

Seeley, W.W. et al. 2006. Early Frontotemporal Dementia Targets Neurons Unique to Apes and Humans. Annals of Neurology, published online ahead of print Decumber 22

http://sciencenow.sciencemag.org/cgi/content/full/2006/1222/1?etoc
http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/12/061222090935.htm
http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2006-12/uoc--wih122106.htm

May 2006

Master planners in brain may coordinate other areas' roles in cognitive tasks

Scans of 183 subjects have identified 3 brain areas most consistently active during a variety of cognitive tasks — the dorsal anterior cingulate and the left and right frontal operculum. It’s suggested that these regions coordinate the activities of specialized regions. In a rather lovely analogy, researchers suggested that if the brain in action can be compared to a symphony, with specialized sections required to pitch in at the right time to produce the desired melody, then the regions highlighted by the new study may be likened to conductors. Until now, the function of the opercula has been a mystery; the findings also suggest a rethinking of the role of the cingulate.

Dosenbach, N.U.F. et al. 2006. A core system for the implementation of task sets. Neuron, 50(5), 799-812.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/05/060531165250.htm
http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2006-05/wuso-mpi053006.php

April 2006

AIDS-related cognitive impairment exists in two separate forms

Cognitive impairment in people with AIDS is caused when the HIV virus attacks the brain and can be a complicated syndrome resulting in deficits in mood, behavior, motor coordination and thought processes. While the incidence of severe dementia in people with AIDS has decreased significantly, a greater number of people are living with a milder form of cognitive impairment. A study of 54 participants with AIDS and 23 HIV-negative control subjects has found that cognitive impairment in people with AIDS exists in two forms -- one mild, another severe -- each affecting different areas of the brain. Of the 54 participants with AIDS, 17 demonstrated some level of mental impairment. The mild impairment group only showed problems in the area of psychomotor speed, and demonstrated atrophy in the frontal and anterior cingulate cortices. Those in the severe impairment group showed impairments in memory and visual-spatial processing as well as psychomotor speed, and had more significant atrophy that was located in the caudate and putamen.

The findings were presented April 5 at the American Academy of Neurology 58th Annual Meeting in San Diego.

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2006-04/uopm-aci040306.php

February 2006

A single memory is processed in three separate parts of the brain

A rat study has demonstrated that a single experience is indeed processed differently in separate parts of the brain. They found that when the rats were confined in a dark compartment of a familiar box and given a mild shock, the hippocampus was involved in processing memory for context, while the anterior cingulate cortex was responsible for retaining memories involving unpleasant stimuli, and the amygdala consolidated memories more broadly and influenced the storage of both contextual and unpleasant information.

Malin, E.L. & McGaugh, J.L. 2006. Differential involvement of the hippocampus, anterior cingulate cortex, and basolateral amygdala in memory for context and footshock. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 103 (6), 1959-1963.

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2006-02/uoc--urp020106.php

November 2005

Coffee jump-starts short-term memory

An imaging study of 15 males aged 26-47 has found that after consuming caffeine, all showed improved reaction times, and increased activity in part of the frontal lobe and in the anterior cingulate cortex. The findings are consistent with earlier research showing caffeine improves attention.

Koppelstätter, F. et al. 2005. Presented at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America in Chicago.

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2005-11/rson-cjs112005.php

August 2005

Insight into the processes of 'positive' and 'negative' learners

An intriguing study of the electrical signals emanating from the brain has revealed two types of learners. A brainwave event called an "event-related potential" (ERP) is important in learning; a particular type of ERP called "error-related negativity" (ERN), is associated with activity in the anterior cingulate cortex. This region is activated during demanding cognitive tasks, and ERNs are typically more negative after participants make incorrect responses compared to correct choices. Unexpectedly, studies of this ERN found a difference between "positive" learners, who perform better at choosing the correct response than avoiding the wrong one, and "negative" learners, who learn better to avoid incorrect responses. The negative learners showed larger ERNs, suggesting that "these individuals are more affected by, and therefore learn more from, their errors.” Positive learners had larger ERNs when faced with high-conflict win/win decisions among two good options than during lose/lose decisions among two bad options, whereas negative learners showed the opposite pattern.

Frank, M.J., Woroch, B.S. & Curran, T. 2005. Error-Related Negativity Predicts Reinforcement Learning and Conflict Biases. Neuron, 47, 495-501.

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2005-08/cp-iit081205.php

October 2004

How false memories are formed

An imaging study has attempted to pinpoint how people form a memory for something that didn't actually happen. The study measured brain activity in people who looked at pictures of objects or imagined other objects they were asked to visualize. Three brain areas (precuneus, right inferior parietal cortex and anterior cingulate) showed greater responses in the study phase to words that would later be falsely remembered as having been presented with photos, compared to words that were not later misremembered as having been presented with photos. Brain activity produced in response to viewed pictures also predicted which pictures would be subsequently remembered. Two brain regions in particular -- the left hippocampus and the left prefrontal cortex -- were activated more strongly for pictures that were later remembered than for pictures that were forgotten. The new findings directly showed that different brain areas are critical for accurate memories for visual objects than for false remembering -- for forming a memory for an imagined object that is later remembered as a perceived object.

Gonsalves, B., Reber, P.J., Gitelman, D.R., Parrish, T.B., Mesulam, M-M. & Paller, K.A. 2004. Neural Evidence That Vivid Imagining Can Lead to False Remembering. Psychological Science, 15 (10), 655-660.

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2004-10/nu-nrp101404.php
http://www.northwestern.edu/newscenter/stories/2004/10/kenneth.html

Development of working memory with age

An imaging study of 20 healthy 8- to 30-year-olds has shed new light on the development of working memory. The study found that pre-adolescent children relied most heavily on the prefrontal and parietal regions of the brain during the working memory task; adolescents used those regions plus the anterior cingulate; and in adults, a third area of the brain, the medial temporal lobe, was brought in to support the functions of the other areas. Adults performed best. The results support the view that a person's ability to have voluntary control over behavior improves with age because with development, additional brain processes are used.

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2004-10/uopm-dow102104.php

Can't place a name to the face you just saw?

We’re all familiar with that “I know I know it, I just can’t bring it to mind” feeling. Among researchers, this is known as FOK — “feeling of knowing”. It is a common phenomenon, that occurs more frequently as we age. A new imaging study involving a dozen people aged 22 to 32, has investigated the FOK state using pictures of 300 famous and not-so-famous faces. They found that the medial prefrontal cortex showed activity during the FOK state, but not when the subjects either knew or did not know a face. Possibly this reflects a state in which subjects were evaluating the correctness of retrieved information. Additionally, the anterior cingulate area became activated both in the FOK state and when subjects successfully retrieved a name but with some effort. The anterior cingulate area is associated with cognitive conflict processes which allow a person to detect errors in automatic behavior responses. The results suggest that, during a FOK state, the brain may be enlisting additional processes to aid in recalling accurate memories.

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2004-10/uoa-cpa102604.php

April 2004

How we retrieve distant memories

We know that recent memories are stored in the hippocampus, but these memories do not remain there forever. It has been less clear how we retrieve much older memories. Now studies of mice genetically altered to be unable to recall old memories have demonstrated that a part of the cortex called the anterior cingulate is critical for this process. It is suggested that, rather than this structure being the storage site for old memories, the anterior cingulate assembles signals of an old memory from different sites in the brain. Dementia may result from a malfunction in this assembling process, leaving the memory too fragmented to make proper sense. Both ageing and certain aspects of Alzheimer's disease and other dementias are all accompanied by reduced activity in the anterior cingulate.

Frankland, P.W., Bontempi, B., Talton, L.E., Kaczmarek, L. & Silva, A.J. 2004. The Involvement of the Anterior Cingulate Cortex in Remote Contextual Fear Memory. Science, 304, 881-883.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/3689335.stm

August 2002

Identity memory area localized

An imaging study investigating brain activation when people were asked to answer yes or no to statements about themselves (e.g. 'I forget important things', 'I'm a good friend', 'I have a quick temper'), found consistent activation in the anterior medial prefrontal and posterior cingulate. This is consistent with lesion studies, and suggests that these areas of the cortex are involved in self-reflective thought.

Johnson, S.C., Baxter, L.C., Wilder, L.S., Pipe, J.G., Heiserman, J.E. & Prigatano, G.P. 2002. Neural correlates of self-reflection. Brain, 125 (8), 1808-14.

http://brain.oupjournals.org/cgi/content/abstract/125/8/1808

Cingulate Gyrus

Older news items (pre-2010) brought over from the old website

September 2009

Healthy older brains not significantly smaller than younger brains

A study using healthy older adults from Holland's long-term Maastricht Aging Study found that the 35 cognitively healthy people who stayed free of dementia showed no significant decline in gray matter, but the 30 people who showed substantial cognitive decline although still dementia-free showed a significant reduction in brain tissue in the hippocampus and parahippocampal areas, and in the frontal and cingulate cortices. The findings suggest that atrophy in the normal older brain may have been over-estimated in earlier studies, by not screening out people whose undetected, slowly developing brain disease was killing off cells in key areas.

Burgmans, S. et al. 2009. The Prevalence of Cortical Gray Matter Atrophy May Be Overestimated In the Healthy Aging Brain. Neuropsychology, 23 (5), 541-550.

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-09/apa-hob090309.php

May 2009

Brain's problem-solving function at work when we daydream

An imaging study has revealed that daydreaming is associated with an increase in activity in numerous brain regions, especially those regions associated with complex problem-solving. Until now it was thought that the brain's "default network" (which includes the medial prefrontal cortex, the posterior cingulate cortex and the temporoparietal junction) was the only part of the brain active when our minds wander. The new study has found that the "executive network" (including the lateral prefrontal cortex and the dorsal anterior cingulate cortex) is also active. Before this, it was thought that these networks weren’t active at the same time. It may be that mind wandering evokes a unique mental state that allows otherwise opposing networks to work in cooperation. It was also found that greater activation was associated with less awareness on the part of the subject that there mind was wandering.

Christoff, K. et al. 2009. Experience sampling during fMRI reveals default network and executive system contributions to mind wandering. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 106 (21), 8719-8724.

http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2009-05/uobc-bpf051109.php

March 2009

Processing speed component of intelligence is largely inherited

A new kind of scanner used on the brains of 23 sets of identical twins and 23 sets of fraternal twins has revealed that myelin quality is under strong genetic control in the frontal, parietal, and left occipital lobes, and that myelin quality (in the cingulum, optic radiations, superior fronto-occipital fasciculus, internal capsule, callosal isthmus, and corona radiata) was correlated with intelligence scores. Myelin governs the speed with which signals can travel along the axons of neurons, that is, how fast we can process information. The researchers are now working on finding the genes that may influence myelin growth.

Chiang, M-C. et al. 2009. Genetics of Brain Fiber Architecture and Intellectual Performance. Journal of Neuroscience, 29, 2212–2224.

http://www.physorg.com/news156519927.html

December 2006

New brain region associated with face recognition

Using a new technique, researchers have found evidence for neurons that are selectively tuned for gender, ethnicity and identity cues in the cingulate gyrus, a brain area not previously associated with face processing.

Ng, M. et al. 2006. Selectivity for the configural cues that identify gender, ethnicity, and identity in human cortex. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 103 (51), 19552-19557.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2006/12/061212091823.htm

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