Discover the most talked about and latest scientific content & concepts.

Concept: Prefrontal cortex


Misophonia is an affective sound-processing disorder characterized by the experience of strong negative emotions (anger and anxiety) in response to everyday sounds, such as those generated by other people eating, drinking, chewing, and breathing [1-8]. The commonplace nature of these sounds (often referred to as “trigger sounds”) makes misophonia a devastating disorder for sufferers and their families, and yet nothing is known about the underlying mechanism. Using functional and structural MRI coupled with physiological measurements, we demonstrate that misophonic subjects show specific trigger-sound-related responses in brain and body. Specifically, fMRI showed that in misophonic subjects, trigger sounds elicit greatly exaggerated blood-oxygen-level-dependent (BOLD) responses in the anterior insular cortex (AIC), a core hub of the "salience network" that is critical for perception of interoceptive signals and emotion processing. Trigger sounds in misophonics were associated with abnormal functional connectivity between AIC and a network of regions responsible for the processing and regulation of emotions, including ventromedial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), posteromedial cortex (PMC), hippocampus, and amygdala. Trigger sounds elicited heightened heart rate (HR) and galvanic skin response (GSR) in misophonic subjects, which were mediated by AIC activity. Questionnaire analysis showed that misophonic subjects perceived their bodies differently: they scored higher on interoceptive sensibility than controls, consistent with abnormal functioning of AIC. Finally, brain structural measurements implied greater myelination within vmPFC in misophonic individuals. Overall, our results show that misophonia is a disorder in which abnormal salience is attributed to particular sounds based on the abnormal activation and functional connectivity of AIC.

Concepts: Brain, Cerebrum, Hippocampus, Limbic system, Prefrontal cortex, Ventromedial prefrontal cortex, Insular cortex, Galvanic skin response


The ability to infer intentions of other agents, called theory of mind (ToM), confers strong advantages for individuals in social situations. Here, we show that ToM can also be maladaptive when people interact with complex modern institutions like financial markets. We tested participants who were investing in an experimental bubble market, a situation in which the price of an asset is much higher than its underlying fundamental value. We describe a mechanism by which social signals computed in the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex affect value computations in ventromedial prefrontal cortex, thereby increasing an individual’s propensity to ‘ride’ financial bubbles and lose money. These regions compute a financial metric that signals variations in order flow intensity, prompting inference about other traders' intentions. Our results suggest that incorporating inferences about the intentions of others when making value judgments in a complex financial market could lead to the formation of market bubbles.

Concepts: Brain, Economics, Cerebrum, Consciousness, Computer, Prefrontal cortex, Ventromedial prefrontal cortex, Bank


Attentional control ensures that neuronal processes prioritize the most relevant stimulus in a given environment. Controlling which stimulus is attended thus originates from neurons encoding the relevance of stimuli, i.e. their expected value, in hand with neurons encoding contextual information about stimulus locations, features, and rules that guide the conditional allocation of attention. Here, we examined how these distinct processes are encoded and integrated in macaque prefrontal cortex (PFC) by mapping their functional topographies at the time of attentional stimulus selection. We find confined clusters of neurons in ventromedial PFC (vmPFC) that predominantly convey stimulus valuation information during attention shifts. These valuation signals were topographically largely separated from neurons predicting the stimulus location to which attention covertly shifted, and which were evident across the complete medial-to-lateral extent of the PFC, encompassing anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), and lateral PFC (LPFC). LPFC responses showed particularly early-onset selectivity and primarily facilitated attention shifts to contralateral targets. Spatial selectivity within ACC was delayed and heterogeneous, with similar proportions of facilitated and suppressed responses during contralateral attention shifts. The integration of spatial and valuation signals about attentional target stimuli was observed in a confined cluster of neurons at the intersection of vmPFC, ACC, and LPFC. These results suggest that valuation processes reflecting stimulus-specific outcome predictions are recruited during covert attentional control. Value predictions and the spatial identification of attentional targets were conveyed by largely separate neuronal populations, but were integrated locally at the intersection of three major prefrontal areas, which may constitute a functional hub within the larger attentional control network.

Concepts: Brain, Cerebrum, Limbic system, Attention versus memory in prefrontal cortex, Prefrontal cortex, Brodmann area 24, Anterior cingulate cortex, Cingulate cortex


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


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


Planning allows actions to be structured in pursuit of a future goal. However, in natural environments, planning over multiple possible future states incurs prohibitive computational costs. To represent plans efficiently, states can be clustered hierarchically into “contexts”. For example, representing a journey through a subway network as a succession of individual states (stations) is more costly than encoding a sequence of contexts (lines) and context switches (line changes). Here, using functional brain imaging, we asked humans to perform a planning task in a virtual subway network. Behavioral analyses revealed that humans executed a hierarchically organized plan. Brain activity in the dorsomedial prefrontal cortex and premotor cortex scaled with the cost of hierarchical plan representation and unique neural signals in these regions signaled contexts and context switches. These results suggest that humans represent hierarchical plans using a network of caudal prefrontal structures. VIDEO ABSTRACT.

Concepts: Neuron, Brain, Structure, Hierarchy, Cerebrum, Management, Premotor cortex, Prefrontal cortex


Memory dysfunction is a key symptom of age-related dementia. Although recent studies have suggested positive effects of electrical stimulation for memory enhancement, its potential targets remain largely unknown. In this study, we hypothesized that spatially targeted deep brain stimulation of ventromedial prefrontal cortex enhanced memory functions in a middle-aged rat model. Our results show that acute stimulation enhanced the short-, but not the long-term memory in the novel-object recognition task. Interestingly, after chronic high-frequency stimulation, both the short- and long-term memories were robustly improved in the novel-object recognition test and Morris water-maze spatial task compared to sham. Our results also demonstrated that chronic ventromedial prefrontal cortex high-frequency stimulation upregulated neurogenesis-associated genes along with enhanced hippocampal cell proliferation. Importantly, these memory behaviors were strongly correlated with the hippocampal neurogenesis. Overall, these findings suggest that chronic ventromedial prefrontal cortex high-frequency stimulation may serve as a novel effective therapeutic target for dementia-related disorders.

Concepts: Brain, Memory, Cerebrum, Hippocampus, Long-term potentiation, Prefrontal cortex, Ventromedial prefrontal cortex, Long-term memory


Following intranasal administration of oxytocin (OT), we measured, via functional MRI, changes in brain activity during judgments of socially (Eyes) and nonsocially (Vehicles) meaningful pictures in 17 children with high-functioning autism spectrum disorder (ASD). OT increased activity in the striatum, the middle frontal gyrus, the medial prefrontal cortex, the right orbitofrontal cortex, and the left superior temporal sulcus. In the striatum, nucleus accumbens, left posterior superior temporal sulcus, and left premotor cortex, OT increased activity during social judgments and decreased activity during nonsocial judgments. Changes in salivary OT concentrations from baseline to 30 min postadministration were positively associated with increased activity in the right amygdala and orbitofrontal cortex during social vs. nonsocial judgments. OT may thus selectively have an impact on salience and hedonic evaluations of socially meaningful stimuli in children with ASD, and thereby facilitate social attunement. These findings further the development of a neurophysiological systems-level understanding of mechanisms by which OT may enhance social functioning in children with ASD.

Concepts: Neuroanatomy, Brain, Cerebrum, Autism, Limbic system, Frontal lobe, Premotor cortex, Prefrontal cortex


Urbanization has many benefits, but it also is associated with increased levels of mental illness, including depression. It has been suggested that decreased nature experience may help to explain the link between urbanization and mental illness. This suggestion is supported by a growing body of correlational and experimental evidence, which raises a further question: what mechanism(s) link decreased nature experience to the development of mental illness? One such mechanism might be the impact of nature exposure on rumination, a maladaptive pattern of self-referential thought that is associated with heightened risk for depression and other mental illnesses. We show in healthy participants that a brief nature experience, a 90-min walk in a natural setting, decreases both self-reported rumination and neural activity in the subgenual prefrontal cortex (sgPFC), whereas a 90-min walk in an urban setting has no such effects on self-reported rumination or neural activity. In other studies, the sgPFC has been associated with a self-focused behavioral withdrawal linked to rumination in both depressed and healthy individuals. This study reveals a pathway by which nature experience may improve mental well-being and suggests that accessible natural areas within urban contexts may be a critical resource for mental health in our rapidly urbanizing world.

Concepts: Psychology, Brain, Mental health, Illness, Mental disorder, Bipolar disorder, Psychiatry, Prefrontal cortex


Neurobiological models of self-control predominantly focus on the role of prefrontal brain mechanisms involved in emotion regulation and impulse control. We provide evidence for an entirely different neural mechanism that promotes self-control by overcoming bias for the present self, a mechanism previously thought to be mainly important for interpersonal decision-making. In two separate studies, we show that disruptive transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) of the temporo-parietal junction-a brain region involved in overcoming one’s self-centered perspective-increases the discounting of delayed and prosocial rewards. This effect of TMS on temporal and social discounting is accompanied by deficits in perspective-taking and does not reflect altered spatial reorienting and number recognition. Our findings substantiate a fundamental commonality between the domains of self-control and social decision-making and highlight a novel aspect of the neurocognitive processes involved in self-control.

Concepts: Nervous system, Psychology, Cognition, Cerebrum, Cognitive neuroscience, Transcranial magnetic stimulation, Emotion, Prefrontal cortex