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Concept: Anterior cingulate cortex


Media multitasking, or the concurrent consumption of multiple media forms, is increasingly prevalent in today’s society and has been associated with negative psychosocial and cognitive impacts. Individuals who engage in heavier media-multitasking are found to perform worse on cognitive control tasks and exhibit more socio-emotional difficulties. However, the neural processes associated with media multi-tasking remain unexplored. The present study investigated relationships between media multitasking activity and brain structure. Research has demonstrated that brain structure can be altered upon prolonged exposure to novel environments and experience. Thus, we expected differential engagements in media multitasking to correlate with brain structure variability. This was confirmed via Voxel-Based Morphometry (VBM) analyses: Individuals with higher Media Multitasking Index (MMI) scores had smaller gray matter density in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC). Functional connectivity between this ACC region and the precuneus was negatively associated with MMI. Our findings suggest a possible structural correlate for the observed decreased cognitive control performance and socio-emotional regulation in heavy media-multitaskers. While the cross-sectional nature of our study does not allow us to specify the direction of causality, our results brought to light novel associations between individual media multitasking behaviors and ACC structure differences.

Concepts: Neuroanatomy, Brain, Cerebrum, Multitasking, Media multitasking, Brodmann area 24, Anterior cingulate cortex, Cingulate cortex


Lack of physical engagement, productivity, and initiative-so-called “behavioral apathy”-is a common problem with significant impact, both personal and economic. Here, we investigate whether there might be a biological basis to such lack of motivation using a new effort and reward-based decision-making paradigm, combined with functional and diffusion-weighted imaging. We hypothesized that behavioral apathy in otherwise healthy people might be associated with differences in brain systems underlying either motivation to act (specifically in effort and reward-based decision-making) or in action processing (transformation of an intention into action). The results demonstrate that behavioral apathy is associated with increased effort sensitivity as well as greater recruitment of neural systems involved in action anticipation: supplementary motor area (SMA) and cingulate motor zones. In addition, decreased structural and functional connectivity between anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and SMA were associated with increased behavioral apathy. These findings reveal that effort sensitivity and translation of intentions into actions might make a critical contribution to behavioral apathy. We propose a mechanism whereby inefficient communication between ACC and SMA might lead to increased physiological cost-and greater effort sensitivity-for action initiation in more apathetic people.

Concepts: Neuroanatomy, Brain, Cerebral cortex, Cerebrum, Premotor cortex, Brodmann area 24, Anterior cingulate cortex, Cingulate cortex


Tonic pain after injury characterises a behavioural state that prioritises recovery. Although generally suppressing cognition and attention, tonic pain needs to allow effective relief learning to reduce the cause of the pain. Here, we describe a central learning circuit that supports learning of relief and concurrently suppresses the level of ongoing pain. We used computational modelling of behavioural, physiological and neuroimaging data in two experiments in which subjects learned to terminate tonic pain in static and dynamic escape-learning paradigms. In both studies, we show that active relief-seeking involves a reinforcement learning process manifest by error signals observed in the dorsal putamen. Critically, this system uses an uncertainty (‘associability’) signal detected in pregenual anterior cingulate cortex that both controls the relief learning rate, and endogenously and parametrically modulates the level of tonic pain. The results define a self-organising learning circuit that reduces ongoing pain when learning about potential relief.

Concepts: Psychology, Cerebrum, Machine learning, Learning, Knowledge, Brodmann area 24, Anterior cingulate cortex, Cingulate cortex


Consolation behavior toward distressed others is common in humans and great apes, yet our ability to explore the biological mechanisms underlying this behavior is limited by its apparent absence in laboratory animals. Here, we provide empirical evidence that a rodent species, the highly social and monogamous prairie vole (Microtus ochrogaster), greatly increases partner-directed grooming toward familiar conspecifics (but not strangers) that have experienced an unobserved stressor, providing social buffering. Prairie voles also match the fear response, anxiety-related behaviors, and corticosterone increase of the stressed cagemate, suggesting an empathy mechanism. Exposure to the stressed cagemate increases activity in the anterior cingulate cortex, and oxytocin receptor antagonist infused into this region abolishes the partner-directed response, showing conserved neural mechanisms between prairie vole and human.

Concepts: Rodent, Brodmann area 24, Anterior cingulate cortex, Cingulate cortex, Muroidea, Vole, Microtus, Prairie Vole


Observing the pain of others has been shown to elicit greater activation in sensory and emotional areas of the brain suggested to represent a neural marker of empathy. This modulation of brain responses to others' pain is dependent on the race of the observed person, such that observing own-race people in pain is associated with greater activity in the anterior cingulate and bilateral insula cortices compared to other-race people. Importantly, it is not known how this racial bias to pain in other-race individuals might change over time in new immigrants or might depend on the level and quality of contact with people of the other-race. We investigated these issues by recruiting Chinese students who had first arrived in Australia within the past 6 months to 5 years and assessing their level of contact with other races across different social contexts using comprehensive rating scales. During fMRI, participants observed videos of own-race/other-race individuals, as well as own-group/other-group individuals, receiving painful or non-painful touch. The typical racial bias in neural responses to observed pain was evident, whereby activation in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) was greater for pain in own-race compared to other-race people. Crucially, activation in the anterior cingulate to pain in other races increased significantly with the level of contact participants reported with people of the other race. Importantly, this correlation did not depend on the closeness of contact or personal relationships, but simply on the overall level of experience with people of the other race in their every-day environment. Racial bias in neural responses to others' pain, as a neural marker of empathy, therefore changes with experience in new immigrants at least within 5 years of arrival in the new society and, crucially, depends on the level of contact with people of the other race in every-day life contexts.

Concepts: Cerebrum, Pain, Race, Race and ethnicity in the United States Census, Brodmann area 24, Anterior cingulate cortex, Cingulate cortex, Insular cortex


Self-esteem is shaped by the appraisals we receive from others. Here, we characterize neural and computational mechanisms underlying this form of social influence. We introduce a computational model that captures fluctuations in self-esteem engendered by prediction errors that quantify the difference between expected and received social feedback. Using functional MRI, we show these social prediction errors correlate with activity in ventral striatum/subgenual anterior cingulate cortex, while updates in self-esteem resulting from these errors co-varied with activity in ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC). We linked computational parameters to psychiatric symptoms using canonical correlation analysis to identify an ‘interpersonal vulnerability’ dimension. Vulnerability modulated the expression of prediction error responses in anterior insula and insula-vmPFC connectivity during self-esteem updates. Our findings indicate that updating of self-evaluative beliefs relies on learning mechanisms akin to those used in learning about others. Enhanced insula-vmPFC connectivity during updating of those beliefs may represent a marker for psychiatric vulnerability.

Concepts: Brain, Cerebrum, Prefrontal cortex, Ventromedial prefrontal cortex, Brodmann area 24, Anterior cingulate cortex, Cingulate cortex, Insular cortex


Cumulative evidence from both humans and animals suggests that the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) is important for pain-related perception, and thus a likely target for pain relief therapy. However, use of existing electrode based ACC stimulation has not significantly reduced pain, at least in part due to the lack of specificity and likely co-activation of both excitatory and inhibitory neurons. Herein, we report a dramatic reduction of pain behavior in transgenic mice by optogenetic stimulation of the inhibitory neural circuitry of the ACC expressing channelrhodopsin-2. Electrophysiological measurements confirmed that stimulation of ACC inhibitory neurons is associated with decreased neural activity in the ACC. Further, a distinct optogenetic stimulation intensity and frequency-dependent inhibition of spiking activity in the ACC was observed. Moreover, we confirmed specific electrophysiological responses from different neuronal units in the thalamus, in response to particular types of painful stimuli (i,e., formalin injection, pinch), which we found to be modulated by optogenetic control of the ACC inhibitory neurons. These results underscore the inhibition of the ACC as a clinical alternative in inhibiting chronic pain, and leads to a better understanding of the pain processing circuitry of the cingulate cortex.

Concepts: Neuron, Action potential, Neuroscience, Cerebral cortex, Cerebrum, Pain, Brodmann area 24, Anterior cingulate cortex


Suicide attempters have been found to be impaired in decision-making; however, their specific biases in evaluating uncertain outcomes remain unclear. Here we tested the hypothesis that suicidal behavior is associated with heightened aversion to risk and loss, which might produce negative predictions about uncertain future events. Forty-five depressed patients with a suicide attempt history, 47 nonsuicidal depressed patients, and 75 healthy controls participated in monetary decision-making tasks assessing risk and loss aversion. Suicide attempters compared with the other groups exhibited greater aversion to both risk and loss during gambles involving potential loss. Risk and loss aversion correlated with each other in the depressed patients, suggesting that a common pathophysiological mechanism underlies these biases. In addition, emotion regulation via suppression, a detrimental emotional control strategy, was positively correlated with loss aversion in the depressed patients, also implicating impairment in regulatory processes. A preliminary fMRI study also found disrupted neural responses to potential gains and losses in the subgenual anterior cingulate cortex, insula cortex, and left amygdala, brain regions involved in valuation, emotion reactivity, and emotion regulation. The findings thus implicate heightened negative valuation in decision-making under risk, and impaired emotion regulation in depressed patients with a history of suicide attempts.

Concepts: Decision theory, Cerebrum, Schizophrenia, Bipolar disorder, Major depressive disorder, Brodmann area 24, Anterior cingulate cortex, Suicide


Here we report the first and most robust evidence about how sleep habits are associated with regional brain grey matter volumes and school grade average in early adolescence. Shorter time in bed during weekdays, and later weekend sleeping hours correlate with smaller brain grey matter volumes in frontal, anterior cingulate, and precuneus cortex regions. Poor school grade average associates with later weekend bedtime and smaller grey matter volumes in medial brain regions. The medial prefrontal - anterior cingulate cortex appears most tightly related to the adolescents' variations in sleep habits, as its volume correlates inversely with both weekend bedtime and wake up time, and also with poor school performance. These findings suggest that sleep habits, notably during the weekends, have an alarming link with both the structure of the adolescent brain and school performance, and thus highlight the need for informed interventions.

Concepts: Neuroanatomy, Brain, Sleep, Cerebrum, Frontal lobe, Brodmann area 24, Anterior cingulate cortex, Cingulate cortex


The dorsal Anterior Cingulate Cortex (dACC) and the Supplementary Motor Area (SMA) are known to interact during motor coordination behavior. We previously discovered that the directional influences underlying this interaction in a visuo-motor coordination task are asymmetric, with the dACC→SMA influence being significantly greater than that in the reverse direction. To assess the specificity of this effect, here we undertook an analysis of the interaction between dACC and SMA in two distinct contexts. In addition to the motor coordination task, we also assessed these effects during a (n-back) working memory task. We applied directed functional connectivity analysis to these two task paradigms, and also to the rest condition of each paradigm, in which rest blocks were interspersed with task blocks. We report here that the previously known asymmetric interaction between dACC and SMA, with dACC→SMA dominating, was significantly larger in the motor coordination task than the memory task. Moreover the asymmetry between dACC and SMA was reversed during the rest condition of the motor coordination task, but not of the working memory task. In sum, the dACC→SMA influence was significantly greater in the motor task than the memory task condition, and the SMA→dACC influence was significantly greater in the motor rest than the memory rest condition. We interpret these results as suggesting that the potentiation of motor sub-networks during the motor rest condition supports the motor control of SMA by dACC during the active motor task condition.

Concepts: Neuroanatomy, Cerebrum, Motor control, Motor coordination, J. A. Scott Kelso, Brodmann area 24, Anterior cingulate cortex, Cingulate cortex