Researchers led by cognitive neuroscientist Adam Aron, an assistant professor of psychology at the University of California, San Diego, have found white matter tracts -- bundles of neurons, or "cables," forming direct, high-speed connections, between distant regions of the brain -- that appear to play a significant role in the rapid control of behavior.
Published in the April 4 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience, the study is the first to identify these white matter tracts in humans, confirming similar findings in monkeys, and the first to relate them to the brain's activity while people voluntarily control their movements.
"Our results provide important information about the correspondence between the anatomy and the activity of control circuits in the brain," Aron said. "We've known for some time about key brain areas involved in controlling behavior and now we're learning how they're connected and how it is that the information can get from one place to the other really fast."
"The findings could be useful not only for understanding movement control," Aron said, "but also 'self-control' and how control functions are affected in a range of neuropsychiatric conditions such as addiction, Tourette's syndrome, stuttering and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder."
To reveal the network, Aron and researchers from UCLA, Oxford University and the University of Arizona performed two types of neuroimaging scan on healthy volunteers.
They used diffusion-weighted MRI, in 10 subjects, to demonstrate the "cables" between distant regions of the brain known to be important for control, and they used functional MRI, in 15 other subjects, to show that these same regions were activated when participants stopped their responses on a simple computerized "go-stop" task.
One of the connected regions was the subthalamic nucleus, within the deep-seated midbrain, which is an interface with the motor system and can be considered a "stop button" or the brake itself. A second region was in the right inferior frontal cortex, a region near the temple, where the control signal to put on the brakes probably comes from.
"This begs the profound question," Aron said, "of where and how the decision to execute control arises."
While this remains a mystery, Aron noted that an additional, intriguing finding of the study was that the third connected node in the network was the presupplementary motor area, which is at the top of the head, near the front. Prior research has implicated this area in sequencing and imagining movements, as well as monitoring for changes in the environment that might conflict with intended actions.
The braking network for movements may also be important for the control of our thoughts and emotions.
There is some evidence for this, Aron said, in the example of Parkinson's patients. In the advanced stages of disease, people can be completely frozen in their movements, because, it seems, their subthalamic nucleus, or stop button, is always "on." While electrode treatment of the area unfreezes the patients' motor system, it can also have the curious effect of disinhibiting them in other ways. In one case, an upstanding family man became manic and hypersexual, and suddenly began stealing money from his wife to pay for prostitutes.
Examples like these motivate Aron to investigate the generality of the braking mechanism.
"The study gives us new targets for studying how the brain relates to behavior, personality and genetics," Aron said. "Variability in the density and thickness of the 'cable' connections is probably influenced by genes, and it would be intriguing if these differences explained people's differing abilities not only to control the swing of a bat but also to control their temper."
Inga Kiderra | EurekAlert!
Researchers identify potentially druggable mutant p53 proteins that promote cancer growth
09.12.2016 | Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory
Plant-based substance boosts eyelash growth
09.12.2016 | Fraunhofer-Institut für Angewandte Polymerforschung IAP
Physicists of the University of Würzburg have made an astonishing discovery in a specific type of topological insulators. The effect is due to the structure of the materials used. The researchers have now published their work in the journal Science.
Topological insulators are currently the hot topic in physics according to the newspaper Neue Zürcher Zeitung. Only a few weeks ago, their importance was...
In recent years, lasers with ultrashort pulses (USP) down to the femtosecond range have become established on an industrial scale. They could advance some applications with the much-lauded “cold ablation” – if that meant they would then achieve more throughput. A new generation of process engineering that will address this issue in particular will be discussed at the “4th UKP Workshop – Ultrafast Laser Technology” in April 2017.
Even back in the 1990s, scientists were comparing materials processing with nanosecond, picosecond and femtosesecond pulses. The result was surprising:...
Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
09.12.2016 | Life Sciences
09.12.2016 | Ecology, The Environment and Conservation
09.12.2016 | Health and Medicine