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

Concept: Prefrontal cortex

336

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

218

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

176

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

174

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

168

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

154

Although neuroscientific research has revealed experience-dependent brain changes across the life span in sensory, motor, and cognitive domains, plasticity relating to social capacities remains largely unknown. To investigate whether the targeted mental training of different cognitive and social skills can induce specific changes in brain morphology, we collected longitudinal magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) data throughout a 9-month mental training intervention from a large sample of adults between 20 and 55 years of age. By means of various daily mental exercises and weekly instructed group sessions, training protocols specifically addressed three functional domains: (i) mindfulness-based attention and interoception, (ii) socio-affective skills (compassion, dealing with difficult emotions, and prosocial motivation), and (iii) socio-cognitive skills (cognitive perspective-taking on self and others and metacognition). MRI-based cortical thickness analyses, contrasting the different training modules against each other, indicated spatially diverging changes in cortical morphology. Training of present-moment focused attention mostly led to increases in cortical thickness in prefrontal regions, socio-affective training induced plasticity in frontoinsular regions, and socio-cognitive training included change in inferior frontal and lateral temporal cortices. Module-specific structural brain changes correlated with training-induced behavioral improvements in the same individuals in domain-specific measures of attention, compassion, and cognitive perspective-taking, respectively, and overlapped with task-relevant functional networks. Our longitudinal findings indicate structural plasticity in well-known socio-affective and socio-cognitive brain networks in healthy adults based on targeted short daily mental practices. These findings could promote the development of evidence-based mental training interventions in clinical, educational, and corporate settings aimed at cultivating social intelligence, prosocial motivation, and cooperation.

Concepts: Psychology, Brain, Brain tumor, Magnetic resonance imaging, Cerebral cortex, Educational psychology, Snake scales, Prefrontal cortex

128

Does silently talking to yourself in the third-person constitute a relatively effortless form of self control? We hypothesized that it does under the premise that third-person self-talk leads people to think about the self similar to how they think about others, which provides them with the psychological distance needed to facilitate self control. We tested this prediction by asking participants to reflect on feelings elicited by viewing aversive images (Study 1) and recalling negative autobiographical memories (Study 2) using either “I” or their name while measuring neural activity via ERPs (Study 1) and fMRI (Study 2). Study 1 demonstrated that third-person self-talk reduced an ERP marker of self-referential emotional reactivity (i.e., late positive potential) within the first second of viewing aversive images without enhancing an ERP marker of cognitive control (i.e., stimulus preceding negativity). Conceptually replicating these results, Study 2 demonstrated that third-person self-talk was linked with reduced levels of activation in an a priori defined fMRI marker of self-referential processing (i.e., medial prefrontal cortex) when participants reflected on negative memories without eliciting increased levels of activity in a priori defined fMRI markers of cognitive control. Together, these results suggest that third-person self-talk may constitute a relatively effortless form of self-control.

Concepts: Psychology, Brain, Cognitive science, Limbic system, Frontal lobe, Emotion, Premotor cortex, Prefrontal cortex

124

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

120

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

95

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