Background: We like to think about sexual activity as something fixed, basic and primal. However, this does not seem to fully capture reality. Even when we relish sex, we may be capable of mentalizing, talking, voluntarily postponing orgasm, and much more. This might indicate that the central control mechanisms of sexual activity are quite flexible and susceptible to learning mechanisms, and that cortical brain areas play a critical part. Objective: This study aimed to identify those cortical areas and mechanisms most (...) consistently implicated in sexual activity. Design: A comprehensive review of the human functional neuroimaging literature on sexual activity, i.e. genital stimulation and orgasm, is made. Results: Genital stimulation recruits the classical somatosensory matrix, but also areas far beyond that. The posterior insula may be particularly important for processing input from the engorged penis and coordinating penile responses. Extrastriate visual cortex tracks sexual arousal and responds to genital stimulation even when subjects have their eyes closed. The ventromedial prefrontal cortex is also tightly coupled to sexual arousal, but low activity in this area predicts high sexual arousal. Conclusion: This review has indicated cortical sites where activity is moderated by tactile genital inflow and high sexual arousal. Behavioral implications are discussed and where possible the relevance for learning mechanisms is indicated. Overall, it is clear that the cerebralcortex has something to say about sexual activity. Keywords: functional neuroimaging; insula; ventromedial prefrontal cortex; extrastriate visual cortex; penis; clitoris; orgasm (Published: 15 March 2012) Citation: Socioaffective Neuroscience & Psychology 2012, 2 : 17337 - DOI: 10.3402/snp.v2i0.17337. (shrink)
We propose a theoretical model of the cerebralcortex which is based on its cellular components and integrates its different levels of organization: (1) cells have general adaptive and memorization properties; (2) cortical columns are repetitive interneuronal circuits which determine an adaptive processing specific to the cerebralcortex; (3) cortical maps effect selective combinations which are very efficient to learn basic behaviourial adaptations such as invariant recognition of forms, visually-guided hand movements, or execution of structured motor (...) programs; (4) the network between cortical areas has a global architecture which integrates successive learning experiences into coherent functions such as the human language. (shrink)
The year 2009 marked the 100th anniversary of the publication of the famous brain map of Korbinian Brodmann. Although a "classic" guide to microanatomical parcellation of the cerebralcortex, it is – from today's state-of-the-art neuroimaging perspective – problematic to use Brodmann's map as a structural guide to functional units in the cortex. In this article we discuss some of the reasons, especially the problematic compatibility of the "post-mortem world" of microstructural brain maps with the "in vivo (...) world" of neuroimaging. We conclude with some prospects for the future of in vivo structural brain mapping: a new approach which has the enormous potential to make direct correlations between microstructure and function in living human brains: "in vivo Brodmann mapping" with high-field magnetic resonance imaging. (shrink)
A broad range of evidence regarding the functional organization of the vertebrate brain – spanning from comparative neurology to experimental psychology and neurophysiology to clinical data – is reviewed for its bearing on conceptions of the neural organization of consciousness. A novel principle relating target selection, action selection, and motivation to one another, as a means to optimize integration for action in real time, is introduced. With its help, the principal macrosystems of the vertebrate brain can be seen to form (...) a centralized functional design in which an upper brain stem system organized for conscious function performs a penultimate step in action control. This upper brain stem system retained a key role throughout the evolutionary process by which an expanding forebrain – culminating in the cerebralcortex of mammals – came to serve as a medium for the elaboration of conscious contents. This highly conserved upper brainstem system, which extends from the roof of the midbrain to the basal diencephalon, integrates the massively parallel and distributed information capacity of the cerebral hemispheres into the limited-capacity, sequential mode of operation required for coherent behavior. It maintains special connective relations with cortical territories implicated in attentional and conscious functions, but is not rendered nonfunctional in the absence of cortical input. This helps explain the purposive, goal-directed behavior exhibited by mammals after experimental decortication, as well as the evidence that children born without a cortex are conscious. Taken together these circumstances suggest that brainstem mechanisms are integral to the constitution of the conscious state, and that an adequate account of neural mechanisms of conscious function cannot be confined to the thalamocortical complex alone. (Published Online May 1 2007) Key Words: action selection; anencephaly; central decision making; consciousness; control architectures; hydranencephaly; macrosystems; motivation; target selection; zona incerta. (shrink)
The ability to predict is the most importantability of the brain. Somehow, the cortex isable to extract regularities from theenvironment and use those regularities as abasis for prediction. This is a most remarkableskill, considering that behaviourallysignificant environmental regularities are noteasy to discern: they operate not only betweenpairs of simple environmental conditions, astraditional associationism has assumed, butamong complex functions of conditions that areorders of complexity removed from raw sensoryinputs. We propose that the brain's basicmechanism for discovering such complexregularities is implemented (...) in the dendritictrees of individual pyramidal cells in thecerebral cortex. Pyramidal cells have 5–8principal dendrites, each of which is capableof learning nonlinear input-to-outputtransfer functions. We propose that eachdendrite is trained, in learning its transferfunction, by all the other principal dendritesof the same cell. These dendrites teach eachother to respond to their separate inputs with matching outputs. Exposed to differentbut related information about the sensoryenvironment, principal dendrites of the samecell tune to functions over environmentalconditions that, while different, are correlated . As a result, the cell as awhole tunes to the source of the regularitiesdiscovered by the cooperating dendrites,creating a new representation. When organizedinto feed-forward/feedback layers, pyramidalcells can build their discoveries on thediscoveries of other cells, graduallyuncovering nature's hidden order. Theresulting associative network is powerfulenough to meet a troubling traditionalobjection to associationism: that it is toosimple an architecture to implement rationalprocesses. (shrink)
Several lines of evidence have underscored the remarkable neuroplasticity of the primate sensorimotor cortex, characterizing these cortical areas as dynamic constructs that are modelled in a use-dependent manner by behaviourally significant experiences. Their plasticity likely provides a neural substrate that may contribute to the dynamic systems paradigm argued by Shanker & King (S&K) as crucial for development of communication skills.
Merker's approach allows the formulation of an evolutionary view of consciousness that abandons a dependence on structural homology – in this case, the presence of a cerebralcortex – in favor of functional concordance. In contrast to Merker, though, I maintain that the emergence of complex, dynamic interactions, such as those which occur between thalamus and cortex, was central to the appearance of consciousness. (Published Online May 1 2007).
“Decortication” does not distinguish between removing all cerebralcortex, including three-layered allocortex or just six-layered neocortex. Functional decortication, by spreading depression, reversibly suppresses only neocortex, leaving minimal intentionality. Removal of all forebrain structures except a hypothalamic “island” blocks all intentional behaviors, leaving only tropisms. To what extent do Merker's examples retain allocortex, and how might such residues affect his interpretations? (Published Online May 1 2007).
0. Introduction The past decade has seen Cognitive Linguistics (CL) emerge as an important, exciting and promising theoretical alternative to Chomskyan approaches to the study of language. Even so, sheer numbers and institutional inertia make it the case that most current neurolinguistic research either assumes that the Chomskyan formalist story is more or less correct (and thus that the task of neurolinguistics is to determine how the brain implements GB, for instance), or that the there are two possibilities, Chomskyanism or (...) associationism/connectionism, and that the task of neurolinguistics is to discover which is really the way the brain does it. In either case, the theoretical apparatus of CL is not being explored by neurolinguistics, and hence the promise CL holds for making genuine fruitful contact with theoretical neurobiology is not materializing as quickly as one might hope. This paper is an attempt to make some initial steps at fulfilling this promise. (shrink)
It is worthwhile to search for forms of coding, processing, and learning common to various cortical regions and cognitive functions. Local cortical processors may coordinate their activity by maximizing the transmission of information coherently related to the context in which it occurs, thus forming synchronized population codes. This coordination involves contextual field (CF) connections that link processors within and between cortical regions. The effects of CF connections are distinguished from those mediating receptive field (RF) input; it is shown how CFs (...) can guide both learning and processing without becoming confused with the transmission of RF information. Simulations explore the capabilities of networks built from local processors with both RF and CF connections. Physiological evidence for synchronization, CFs, and plasticity of the RF and CF connections is described. Coordination via CFs is related to perceptual grouping, the effects of context on contrast sensitivity, amblyopia, implicit influences of color in achromotopsia, object and word perception, and the discovery of distal environmental variables and their interactions through self-organization. Cortical computation could thus involve the flexible evaluation of relations between input signals by locally specialized but adaptive processors whose activity is dynamically associated and coordinated within and between regions through specialized contextual connections. Key Words: cell assemblies; cerebralcortex; context; coordination; dynamic binding; epistemology; functional specialization; learning; neural coding; neural computation; neuropsychology; object recognition; perception; reading; self-organization; synaptic plasticity; synchronization. (shrink)
Applying Behrendt & Young's (B&Y's) model of thalamocortical synchrony to complex visual hallucinations in neurodegenerative disorders, such as dementia with Lewy bodies and progressive supranuclear palsy, leads us to propose that the primary pathology may be cortical rather than thalamic. Additionally, the extinction of active hallucinations by eye closure challenges their conception of the role of reduced sensory input.
Natural sounds contain complex spectral components, which are temporally modulated as time-varying signals. Recent studies have suggested that the auditory system encodes spectral and temporal sound information differently. However, it remains unresolved how the human brain processes sounds containing both spectral and temporal changes. In the present study, we investigated human auditory evoked responses elicited by spectral, temporal, and spectral-temporal sound changes by means of magnetoencephalography (MEG). The auditory evoked responses elicited by the spectral-temporal change were very similar to those (...) elicited by the spectral change, but those elicited by the temporal change were delayed by 30 – 50 ms and differed from the others in morphology. The results suggest that human brain responses corresponding to spectral sound changes precede those corresponding to temporal sound changes, even when the spectral and temporal changes occur simultaneously. (shrink)
Thach's target article presents a remarkable overview and integration of animal and human studies on the functions of the cerebellum and makes clear theoretical predictions for both the normal operation of the cerebellum and for the effects of cerebellar lesions in the mature human. Commentary is provided on three areas, namely, spatial navigation, implicit learning, and cerebellar agenesis to elicit further development of the themes already present in Thach's paper, [THACH].
My response addresses general commentary themes such as my neglect of the forebrain contribution to human consciousness, the bearing of blindsight on consciousness theory, the definition of wakefulness, the significance of emotion and pain perception for consciousness theory, and concerns regarding remnant cortex in children with hydranencephaly. Further specific topics, such as phenomenal and phylogenetic aspects of mesodiencephalic-thalamocortical relations, are also discussed. (Published Online May 1 2007).
Merker's core idea, that the experience of being conscious reflects the interactions of actions, targets, and motivations in the upper brainstem, with cortex providing the content of the conscious experience, merits serious consideration. However, we have two areas of concern: first, that his definition of consciousness is so broad that it is difficult to find any organisms with a brain that could be non-conscious; second, that the focus on one cortical–subcortical system neglects other systems (e.g., basal forebrain and brainstem (...) cholinergic systems and their cortical and thalamic target areas) which may be of at least equal significance. (Published Online May 1 2007). (shrink)
A global workspace is a hub of binding and propagation in a population of loosely coupled signaling elements. Global workspace (GW) architectures recruit many distributed, specialized agents to help resolve focal ambiguities. In the brain, conscious experiences may reflect a global workspace function. For animals the natural world is full of fitness-related ambiguities, suggesting a general adaptive pressure for brains to resolve focal ambiguities quickly and accurately. In humans and related species the cortico-thalamic (C-T) core is believed to underlie conscious (...) aspects of perception, thinking, learning, feelings of knowing, emotions, imagery, working memory and executive control. The C-T core has many anatomical hubs, but conscious percepts are unitary and internally consistent at any given moment. The repertoire of conscious contents is a large, open set. These points suggest that a brain-based GW capacity cannot be localized in a single anatomical hub. Rather, it should be sought in a dynamic capacity for adaptive binding and propagation of neural signals over multi-hub networks. We refer to this as dynamic global workspace theory (dGW). In this view, conscious contents can arise in any region of the C-T core when multiple signal streams settle on a winner-take-all equilibrium. The resulting bound gestalt may ignite an any-to-many broadcast, lasting ~100-200 ms, and trigger widespread adaptation in established networks. Binding and broadcasting may involve theta/gamma or alpha/gamma phase coupling. Conscious contents (qualia) may reflect their sources in cortex. Sensory percepts may bind and broadcast from posterior regions, while non-sensory feelings of knowing (FOKs) may be frontotemporal. The small focal capacity of conscious contents may be the biological price to pay for global access. We propose that in the intact brain the hippocampal/rhinal complex may support conscious event organization as well as episodic memory coding. (shrink)
To what extent does musical practice change the structure of the brain? In order to understand how long-lasting musical training changes brain structure, 20 male right-handed, middle-aged professional musicians and 19 matched controls were investigated. Among the musicians, 13 were pianists or organists with intensive practice regimes. The others were either music teachers at schools or string instrumentalists, who had studied the piano at least as a subsidiary subject, and practiced less intensively. The study was based on T1-weighted MR images, (...) which were analyzed using Deformation Field Morphometry. Cytoarchitectonic probabilistic maps of cortical areas and subcortical nuclei as well as myeloarchitectonic maps of fiber tracts were used as regions of interest to compare volume differences in the brains of musicians and controls. In addition, maps of voxel-wise volume differences were computed and analyzed. Musicians showed a significantly better symmetric motor performance as well as a greater capability of controlling hand independence than controls. Structural MRI-data revealed significant volumetric differences between the brains of keyboard players, who practiced intensively and controls in right sensorimotor areas and the corticospinal tract as well as in the entorhinal cortex and the left superior parietal lobule. Moreover, they showed also larger volumes in a comparable set of regions than the less intensively practicing musicians. The structural changes in the sensory and motor systems correspond well to the behavioral results, and can be interpreted in terms of plasticity as a result of intensive motor training. Areas of the superior parietal lobule and the entorhinal cortex might be enlarged in musicians due to their special skills in sight-playing and memorizing of scores. In conclusion, intensive and specific musical training seems to have an impact on brain structure, not only during the sensitive period of childhood but throughout life. (shrink)
It is traditionally believed that cerebral activation (the presence of low voltage fast electrical activity in the neocortex and rhythmical slow activity in the hippocampus) is correlated with arousal, while deactivation (the presence of large amplitude irregular slow waves or spindles in both the neocortex and the hippocampus) is correlated with sleep or coma. However, since there are many exceptions, these generalizations have only limited validity. Activated patterns occur in normal sleep (active or paradoxical sleep) and during states of (...) anesthesia and coma. Deactivated patterns occur, at times, during normal waking, or during behavior in awake animals treated with atropinic drugs. Also, the fact that patterns characteristic of sleep, arousal, and waking behavior continue in decorticate animals indicates that reticulo-cortical mechanisms are not essential for these aspects of behavior. (shrink)
The standard behavioral index for human consciousness is the ability to report events with accuracy. While this method is routinely used for scientific and medical applications in humans, it is not easy to generalize to other species. Brain evidence may lend itself more easily to comparative testing. Human consciousness involves widespread, relatively fast low-amplitude interactions in the thalamocortical core of the brain, driven by current tasks and conditions. These features have also been found in other mammals, which suggests that consciousness (...) is a major biological adaptation in mammals. We suggest more than a dozen additional properties of human consciousness that may be used to test comparative predictions. Such homologies are necessarily more remote in non-mammals, which do not share the thalamocortical complex. However, as we learn more we may be able to make “deeper” predictions that apply to some birds, reptiles, large-brained invertebrates, and perhaps other species. (shrink)
Neural Darwinism (ND) is a large scale selectionist theory of brain development and function that has been hypothesized to relate to consciousness. According to ND, consciousness is entailed by reentrant interactions among neuronal populations in the thalamocortical system (the ‘dynamic core’). These interactions, which permit high-order discriminations among possible core states, confer selective advantages on organisms possessing them by linking current perceptual events to a past history of value-dependent learning. Here, we assess the consistency of ND with 16 widely recognized (...) properties of consciousness, both physiological (for example, consciousness is associated with widespread, relatively fast, low amplitude interactions in the thalamocortical system), and phenomenal (for example, consciousness involves the existence of a private flow of events available only to the experiencing subject). While no theory accounts fully for all of these properties at present, we find that ND and its recent extensions fare well. (shrink)
Merker makes a strong case for the upper brain stem as being the neural home of primary or phenomenal consciousness. Though less emphasized, he makes an equally strong and empirically supported argument for the critical role of the mesodiencephalon in basic emotion processes. His evidence and argument on the functions of brainstem systems in primary consciousness and basic emotion processes present a strong challenge to prevailing assumptions about the primacy of cognition in emotion-cognition-behavior relations. (Published Online May 1 2007).
In this commentary we discuss the possibility of subcortical consciousness and its implications for fetal anesthesia and analgesia. We review the neural development of structural and functional elements that may participate in conscious representation, with a particular focus on the experience of pain. (Published Online May 1 2007).
Seeking to unlock the secrets of consciousness, neuroscientists have been studying neural correlates of sensory awareness, such as meaningless randomly moving dots. But in the natural world of species' survival, “raw feelings” mediate conscious adaptive responses. Merker connects the brainstem with vigilance, orientating, and emotional consciousness. However, depending on the brain's phylogenetic level, raw feeling takes particular forms. (Published Online May 1 2007).
To further illuminate the nature of conscious states, it may be progressive to integrate Merker's important contribution with what is known regarding (a) the temporal relation between conscious states and activation of the mesodiencephalic system; (b) the nature of the information (e.g., perceptual vs. premotor) involved in conscious integration; and (c) the neural correlates of olfactory consciousness. (Published Online May 1 2007).