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

Journal: Neuron


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


Synapses are found in vast numbers in the brain and contain complex proteomes. We developed genetic labeling and imaging methods to examine synaptic proteins in individual excitatory synapses across all regions of the mouse brain. Synapse catalogs were generated from the molecular and morphological features of a billion synapses. Each synapse subtype showed a unique anatomical distribution, and each brain region showed a distinct signature of synapse subtypes. Whole-brain synaptome cartography revealed spatial architecture from dendritic to global systems levels and previously unknown anatomical features. Synaptome mapping of circuits showed correspondence between synapse diversity and structural and functional connectomes. Behaviorally relevant patterns of neuronal activity trigger spatiotemporal postsynaptic responses sensitive to the structure of synaptome maps. Areas controlling higher cognitive function contain the greatest synapse diversity, and mutations causing cognitive disorders reorganized synaptome maps. Synaptome technology and resources have wide-ranging application in studies of the normal and diseased brain.


Balance of cortical excitation and inhibition (EI) is thought to be disrupted in several neuropsychiatric conditions, yet it is not clear how it is maintained in the healthy human brain. When EI balance is disturbed during learning and memory in animal models, it can be restabilized via formation of inhibitory replicas of newly formed excitatory connections. Here we assess evidence for such selective inhibitory rebalancing in humans. Using fMRI repetition suppression we measure newly formed cortical associations in the human brain. We show that expression of these associations reduces over time despite persistence in behavior, consistent with inhibitory rebalancing. To test this, we modulated excitation/inhibition balance with transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS). Using ultra-high-field (7T) MRI and spectroscopy, we show that reducing GABA allows cortical associations to be re-expressed. This suggests that in humans associative memories are stored in balanced excitatory-inhibitory ensembles that lie dormant unless latent inhibitory connections are unmasked.

Concepts: Nervous system, Psychology, Brain, Neuroscience, Human brain, Cerebral cortex, Hippocampus, Cerebellum


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


The creation of memories about real-life episodes requires rapid neuronal changes that may appear after a single occurrence of an event. How is such demand met by neurons in the medial temporal lobe (MTL), which plays a fundamental role in episodic memory formation? We recorded the activity of MTL neurons in neurosurgical patients while they learned new associations. Pairs of unrelated pictures, one of a person and another of a place, were used to construct a meaningful association modeling the episodic memory of meeting a person in a particular place. We found that a large proportion of responsive MTL neurons expanded their selectivity to encode these specific associations within a few trials: cells initially responsive to one picture started firing to the associated one but not to others. Our results provide a plausible neural substrate for the inception of associations, which are crucial for the formation of episodic memories.

Concepts: Nervous system, Neuron, Brain, Human brain, Cerebral cortex, Memory, Hippocampus, Episodic memory


Investigators have long suspected that pathogenic microbes might contribute to the onset and progression of Alzheimer’s disease (AD) although definitive evidence has not been presented. Whether such findings represent a causal contribution, or reflect opportunistic passengers of neurodegeneration, is also difficult to resolve. We constructed multiscale networks of the late-onset AD-associated virome, integrating genomic, transcriptomic, proteomic, and histopathological data across four brain regions from human post-mortem tissue. We observed increased human herpesvirus 6A (HHV-6A) and human herpesvirus 7 (HHV-7) from subjects with AD compared with controls. These results were replicated in two additional, independent and geographically dispersed cohorts. We observed regulatory relationships linking viral abundance and modulators of APP metabolism, including induction of APBB2, APPBP2, BIN1, BACE1, CLU, PICALM, and PSEN1 by HHV-6A. This study elucidates networks linking molecular, clinical, and neuropathological features with viral activity and is consistent with viral activity constituting a general feature of AD.


Memory skills strongly differ across the general population; however, little is known about the brain characteristics supporting superior memory performance. Here we assess functional brain network organization of 23 of the world’s most successful memory athletes and matched controls with fMRI during both task-free resting state baseline and active memory encoding. We demonstrate that, in a group of naive controls, functional connectivity changes induced by 6 weeks of mnemonic training were correlated with the network organization that distinguishes athletes from controls. During rest, this effect was mainly driven by connections between rather than within the visual, medial temporal lobe and default mode networks, whereas during task it was driven by connectivity within these networks. Similarity with memory athlete connectivity patterns predicted memory improvements up to 4 months after training. In conclusion, mnemonic training drives distributed rather than regional changes, reorganizing the brain’s functional network organization to enable superior memory performance.

Concepts: Cognition, Cerebral cortex, Memory, Temporal lobe, Cerebrum, Primary auditory cortex, Hippocampus, Lobe


An enduring and richly elaborated dichotomy in cognitive neuroscience is that of reflective versus reflexive decision making and choice. Other literatures refer to the two ends of what is likely to be a spectrum with terms such as goal-directed versus habitual, model-based versus model-free or prospective versus retrospective. One of the most rigorous traditions of experimental work in the field started with studies in rodents and graduated via human versions and enrichments of those experiments to a current state in which new paradigms are probing and challenging the very heart of the distinction. We review four generations of work in this tradition and provide pointers to the forefront of the field’s fifth generation.

Concepts: Psychology, Brain, Decision making, Cognition, Memory, Decision theory, Decision making software, Computational neuroscience


Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an inflammatory disease characterized by myelin loss and neuronal dysfunction. Despite the aggregation observed in some families, pathogenic mutations have remained elusive. In this study, we describe the identification of NR1H3 p.Arg415Gln in seven MS patients from two multi-incident families presenting severe and progressive disease, with an average age at onset of 34 years. Additionally, association analysis of common variants in NR1H3 identified rs2279238 conferring a 1.35-fold increased risk of developing progressive MS. The p.Arg415Gln position is highly conserved in orthologs and paralogs, and disrupts NR1H3 heterodimerization and transcriptional activation of target genes. Protein expression analysis revealed that mutant NR1H3 (LXRA) alters gene expression profiles, suggesting a disruption in transcriptional regulation as one of the mechanisms underlying MS pathogenesis. Our study indicates that pharmacological activation of LXRA or its targets may lead to effective treatments for the highly debilitating and currently untreatable progressive phase of MS.

Concepts: DNA, Protein, Gene, Genetics, Gene expression, Evolution, Transcription, Multiple sclerosis


What makes one person more intellectually able than another? Can the entire distribution of human intelligence be accounted for by just one general factor? Is intelligence supported by a single neural system? Here, we provide a perspective on human intelligence that takes into account how general abilities or “factors” reflect the functional organization of the brain. By comparing factor models of individual differences in performance with factor models of brain functional organization, we demonstrate that different components of intelligence have their analogs in distinct brain networks. Using simulations based on neuroimaging data, we show that the higher-order factor “g” is accounted for by cognitive tasks corecruiting multiple networks. Finally, we confirm the independence of these components of intelligence by dissociating them using questionnaire variables. We propose that intelligence is an emergent property of anatomically distinct cognitive systems, each of which has its own capacity.

Concepts: Nervous system, Psychology, Brain, Educational psychology, General intelligence factor, Intelligence quotient, Intelligence, Flynn effect