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Concept: Cortical column


Re-entrant feedback, either within sensory cortex or arising from prefrontal areas, has been strongly linked to the emergence of consciousness, both in theoretical and experimental work. This idea, together with evidence for local micro-consciousness, suggests the generation of qualia could in some way result from local network activity under re-entrant activation. This paper explores the possibility by examining the processing of information by local cortical networks. It highlights the difference between the information structure (how the information is physically embodied), and the information message (what the information is about). It focuses on the network’s ability to recognize information structures amongst its inputs under conditions of extensive local feedback, and to then assign information messages to those structures. It is shown that if the re-entrant feedback enables the network to achieve an attractor state, then the message assigned in any given pass of information through the network is a representation of the message assigned in the previous pass-through of information. Based on this ability the paper argues that as information is repeatedly cycled through the network, the information message that is assigned evolves from a recognition of what the input structure is, to what it is like, to how it appears, to how it seems. It could enable individual networks to be the site of qualia generation. The paper goes on to show networks in cortical layers 2/3 and 5a have the connectivity required for the behavior proposed, and reviews some evidence for a link between such local cortical cyclic activity and conscious percepts. It concludes with some predictions based on the theory discussed.

Concepts: Cerebral cortex, Perception, Consciousness, Information, Cortical column, Robert Duvall, Computer network, Qualia


Understanding the amazingly complex human cerebral cortex requires a map (or parcellation) of its major subdivisions, known as cortical areas. Making an accurate areal map has been a century-old objective in neuroscience. Using multi-modal magnetic resonance images from the Human Connectome Project (HCP) and an objective semi-automated neuroanatomical approach, we delineated 180 areas per hemisphere bounded by sharp changes in cortical architecture, function, connectivity, and/or topography in a precisely aligned group average of 210 healthy young adults. We characterized 97 new areas and 83 areas previously reported using post-mortem microscopy or other specialized study-specific approaches. To enable automated delineation and identification of these areas in new HCP subjects and in future studies, we trained a machine-learning classifier to recognize the multi-modal ‘fingerprint’ of each cortical area. This classifier detected the presence of 96.6% of the cortical areas in new subjects, replicated the group parcellation, and could correctly locate areas in individuals with atypical parcellations. The freely available parcellation and classifier will enable substantially improved neuroanatomical precision for studies of the structural and functional organization of human cerebral cortex and its variation across individuals and in development, aging, and disease.

Concepts: Neuroanatomy, Brain, Cerebral cortex, Cortical column, Area, Cortical area


The successful planning and execution of adaptive behaviors in mammals may require long-range coordination of neural networks throughout cerebral cortex. The neuronal implementation of signals that could orchestrate cortex-wide activity remains unclear. Here, we develop and apply methods for cortex-wide Ca(2+) imaging in mice performing decision-making behavior and identify a global cortical representation of task engagement encoded in the activity dynamics of both single cells and superficial neuropil distributed across the majority of dorsal cortex. The activity of multiple molecularly defined cell types was found to reflect this representation with type-specific dynamics. Focal optogenetic inhibition tiled across cortex revealed a crucial role for frontal cortex in triggering this cortex-wide phenomenon; local inhibition of this region blocked both the cortex-wide response to task-initiating cues and the voluntary behavior. These findings reveal cell-type-specific processes in cortex for globally representing goal-directed behavior and identify a major cortical node that gates the global broadcast of task-related information.

Concepts: Neuron, Brain, Human brain, Cerebral cortex, Cerebrum, Cortical column, Frontal lobe, Neocortex


Vertical thalamocortical afferents give rise to the elementary functional units of sensory cortex, cortical columns. Principles that underlie communication between columns remain however unknown. Here we unravel these by reconstructing in vivo-labeled neurons from all excitatory cell types in the vibrissal part of rat primary somatosensory cortex (vS1). Integrating the morphologies into an exact 3D model of vS1 revealed that the majority of intracortical (IC) axons project far beyond the borders of the principal column. We defined the corresponding innervation volume as the IC-unit. Deconstructing this structural cortical unit into its cell type-specific components, we found asymmetric projections that innervate columns of either the same whisker row or arc, and which subdivide vS1 into 2 orthogonal [supra-]granular and infragranular strata. We show that such organization could be most effective for encoding multi whisker inputs. Communication between columns is thus organized by multiple highly specific horizontal projection patterns, rendering IC-units as the primary structural entities for processing complex sensory stimuli.

Concepts: Nervous system, Neuron, Action potential, Axon, Somatosensory system, Cortical column, Nerve, Organization


The subventricular zone (SVZ) provides a specialized neurogenic microenvironment for proliferation and aggregation of basal progenitors (BPs). Our study reveals a mechanism for the aggregation of BPs within the SVZ required for their proliferation and generation of cortical layer neurons. The autism-related IgCAM, MDGA1, is locally expressed in the BP cell membrane where it co-localizes and complexes with the gap junction protein Connexin43. To address MDGA1 function, we created a floxed allele of MDGA1 and deleted it from BPs. MDGA1 deletion results in reduced BP proliferation and size of the SVZ, with an aberrant population of BPs ectopically positioned in the cortical plate. These defects are manifested in diminished production of cortical layer neurons and a significant reduction of the cortical layers. We conclude that MDGA1 functions to aggregate and maintain BPs within the SVZ providing the neurogenic niche required for their proliferation and generation of cortical layer neurons.

Concepts: Neuron, Gene, Cell, Brain, Cell membrane, Cerebral cortex, Cerebellum, Cortical column


The subventricular zone (SVZ) is greatly expanded in primates with gyrencephalic cortices, and is thought to be absent from vertebrates with three-layered, lissencephalic cortices, such as the turtle. Recent work in rodents has shown that Tbr2-expressing neural precursor cells in the SVZ produce excitatory neurons for each cortical layer in the neocortex. Many excitatory neurons are generated through a two-step process in which Pax6-expressing radial glial cells divide in the VZ to produce Tbr2-expressing intermediate progenitor cells, which divide in the SVZ to produce cortical neurons. We investigated the evolutionary origin of SVZ neural precursor cells in the prenatal cerebral cortex by testing for the presence and distribution of Tbr2-expressing cells in the prenatal cortex of reptilian and avian species. We found that mitotic Tbr2+ cells are present in the prenatal cortex of lizard, turtle, chicken and dove. Furthermore, Tbr2+ cells are organized into a distinct SVZ in the DVR of turtle forebrain, and in the cortices of chicken and dove. Our results are consistent with the concept that Tbr2+ neural precursor cells were present in the common ancestor of mammals and reptiles. Our data also suggest that the organizing principle guiding the assembly of Tbr2+ cells into an anatomically distinct SVZ, both developmentally and evolutionarily, may be shared across vertebrates. Finally, our results indicate that Tbr2 expression can be used to test for the presence of a distinct SVZ, and to define the boundaries of the SVZ in developing cortices. This article is protected by copyright. All rights reserved.

Concepts: Neuron, Brain, Bird, Cerebral cortex, Cerebrum, Cortical column, Glial cell, Common descent


To observe the effects of acupuncture treatment on the expression of Wnt/β-catenin signalling pathway-related genes (Wnt3a, β-catenin and Sox2) in the injured cerebral cortex of rats with traumatic brain injury (TBI).

Concepts: Brain, Traumatic brain injury, Cerebral cortex, Cerebrum, Hippocampus, Cerebellum, Cortical column, Neocortex


Interneurons navigate along multiple tangential paths to settle into appropriate cortical layers. They undergo a saltatory migration paced by intermittent nuclear jumps whose regulation relies on interplay between extracellular cues and genetic-encoded information. It remains unclear how cycles of pause and movement are coordinated at the molecular level. Post-translational modification of proteins contributes to cell migration regulation. The present study uncovers that carboxypeptidase 1, which promotes post-translational protein deglutamylation, controls the pausing of migrating cortical interneurons. Moreover, we demonstrate that pausing during migration attenuates movement simultaneity at the population level, thereby controlling the flow of interneurons invading the cortex. Interfering with the regulation of pausing not only affects the size of the cortical interneuron cohort but also impairs the generation of age-matched projection neurons of the upper layers.

Concepts: Protein structure, Amino acid, Molecular biology, Cell biology, Cerebral cortex, Cortical column, Neurons


The simultaneously imaging and manipulating of neural activity in three-dimensions could enable the functional dissection of neural circuits. Here we have combined two-photon optogenetics with simultaneous volumetric two-photon calcium imaging to manipulate neural activity in mouse neocortex in vivo in 3D, while maintaining cellular resolution. Using a hybrid holographic approach, we simultaneously photostimulate more than 80 neurons over 150 μm in depth in cortical layer 2/3 from mouse visual cortex. We validate the usefulness of the microscope by photoactivating in 3D selected groups of interneurons, suppressing the response of nearby pyramidal neurons to visual stimuli. Our all-optical method could be used as a general platform to read and write activity of neural circuits.

Concepts: Nervous system, Neuron, Brain, Cerebral cortex, Cerebrum, Visual perception, Cortical column, Pyramidal cell


Neocortical activity is permeated with endogenously generated fluctuations, but how these dynamics affect goal-directed behavior remains a mystery. We found that ensemble neural activity in primate visual cortex spontaneously fluctuated between phases of vigorous (On) and faint (Off) spiking synchronously across cortical layers. These On-Off dynamics, reflecting global changes in cortical state, were also modulated at a local scale during selective attention. Moreover, the momentary phase of local ensemble activity predicted behavioral performance. Our results show that cortical state is controlled locally within a cortical map according to cognitive demands and reveal the impact of these local changes in cortical state on goal-directed behavior.

Concepts: Psychology, Brain, Neuroscience, Cerebral cortex, Phase, Cortical column, Modulation, Neocortex