The Reorienting System of the Human Brain: From Environment to Theory of Mind

Department of Neurology, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO 63110, USA.
Neuron (Impact Factor: 15.05). 06/2008; 58(3):306-24. DOI: 10.1016/j.neuron.2008.04.017
Source: PubMed


Survival can depend on the ability to change a current course of action to respond to potentially advantageous or threatening stimuli. This "reorienting" response involves the coordinated action of a right hemisphere dominant ventral frontoparietal network that interrupts and resets ongoing activity and a dorsal frontoparietal network specialized for selecting and linking stimuli and responses. At rest, each network is distinct and internally correlated, but when attention is focused, the ventral network is suppressed to prevent reorienting to distracting events. These different patterns of recruitment may reflect inputs to the ventral attention network from the locus coeruleus/norepinephrine system. While originally conceptualized as a system for redirecting attention from one object to another, recent evidence suggests a more general role in switching between networks, which may explain recent evidence of its involvement in functions such as social cognition.

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Available from: Gaurav H Patel, May 15, 2014
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    • "The projection from the FC and ACC to the LC is believed to contribute to the reconsolidation of memory processes (Sara 2000Sara , 2009Sara , 2010). The FC regulates the control of attention to a novel or salient stimulus (Corbetta et al. 2008; Robbins and Arnsten 2009). According to the integrative theory of NA-LC function, the OFC and ACC send projections to the LC, driving transitions between the LC modes and phasic LC responses to adapt synaptic gain (Aston-Jones and Cohen 2005). "
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    ABSTRACT: Noradrenaline (NA) is a key neuromodulator for the regulation of behavioral state and cognition. It supports learning by increasing arousal and vigilance, whereby new experiences are "earmarked" for encoding. Within the hippocampus, experience-dependent information storage occurs by means of synaptic plasticity. Furthermore, novel spatial, contextual, or associative learning drives changes in synaptic strength, reflected by the strengthening of long-term potentiation (LTP) or long-term depression (LTD). NA acting on β-adrenergic receptors (β-AR) is a key determinant as to whether new experiences result in persistent hippocampal synaptic plasticity. This can even dictate the direction of change of synaptic strength.The different hippocampal subfields play different roles in encoding components of a spatial representation through LTP and LTD. Strikingly, the sensitivity of synaptic plasticity in these subfields to β-adrenergic control is very distinct (dentate gyrus > CA3 > CA1). Moreover, NA released from the locus coeruleus that acts on β-AR leads to hippocampal LTD and an enhancement of LTD-related memory processing. We propose that NA acting on hippocampal β-AR, that is graded according to the novelty or saliency of the experience, determines the content and persistency of synaptic information storage in the hippocampal subfields and therefore of spatial memories.
    Preview · Article · Jan 2016 · Cerebral Cortex
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    • "Notably, rTPJ engagement is far from restricted to the domain of social cognition. Thanks to its strong connectivity with prefrontal and posterior parietal structures [22] [25], many functions are associated with this area and three of them seem of particular relevance for the present discussion: rTPJ has been associated with attentional reorienting to salient or task-relevant events [26], it may be engaged in the comparison of internal expectations with external events [20] [27], and it seems to allow a " rich " , multimodal representation of the social context [25]. We propose that the combination of these three functions is what underpins Self-Other distinction. "
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    ABSTRACT: Neuroscientific research has identified two fundamental components of empathy: shared emotional representations between self and other, and self-other distinction. The concept of shared representations suggests that during empathy, we co-represent another person’s affect by engaging brain and bodily functions underpinning the first-hand experience of the emotion we are empathizing with. This possible grounding of empathy in our own emotional experiences explains the necessity for self-other distinction, which is the capacity to correctly distinguish between our own affective representations and those related to the other. In spite of the importance of these two components in empathy, several aspects still remain controversial. This paper addresses some of them and focuses on (i) the distinction between shared activations versus representations, raising the question what shared representations entail in terms of the underlying neural mechanisms, (ii) the possible mechanisms behind self-other distinction in the cognitive and the affective domains, and whether they have distinct neural underpinnings and (iii) the consequences associated with a selective impairment of one of the two components, thereby addressing their importance in mental disorders such as autism spectrum disorders, psychopathy and alexithymia. © 2015 The Author(s) Published by the Royal Society. All rights reserved.
    Full-text · Article · Jan 2016 · Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society B Biological Sciences
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    • "On the other hand, explicit attention studies usually reveal the activation of distinct neural structures which are thought to regulate selective attention processes. Specifically, the regulation of attention has been associated with activity in frontal cortical regions, including frontal and supplementary eye fields as well as the dorso-lateral prefrontal cortex accompanied by regions of the superior and inferior parietal lobe (Desimone and Duncan, 1995; Kastner and Ungerleider, 2000; Corbetta et al., 2008). In sum, while implicit emotional and explicit task-related attention processes share common neural substrates such as enhanced sensory-perceptual processing, they are also characterized by distinct activations in limbic brain areas implicated in emotion processing and prefrontal regions associated with the volitional regulation of selective attention, respectively. "
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    ABSTRACT: The present study utilized functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to examine the neural processing of concurrently presented emotional stimuli under varying explicit and implicit attention demands. Specifically, in separate trials, participants indicated the category of either pictures or words. The words were placed over the center of the pictures and the picture-word compound-stimuli were presented for 1500 ms in a rapid event-related design. The results reveal pronounced main effects of task and emotion: the picture categorization task prompted strong activations in visual, parietal, temporal, frontal, and subcortical regions; the word categorization task evoked increased activation only in left extrastriate cortex. Furthermore, beyond replicating key findings regarding emotional picture and word processing, the results point to a dissociation of semantic-affective and sensory-perceptual processes for words: while emotional words engaged semantic-affective networks of the left hemisphere regardless of task, the increased activity in left extrastriate cortex associated with explicitly attending to words was diminished when the word was overlaid over an erotic image. Finally, we observed a significant interaction between Picture Category and Task within dorsal visual-associative regions, inferior parietal, and dorsolateral, and medial prefrontal cortices: during the word categorization task, activation was increased in these regions when the words were overlaid over erotic as compared to romantic pictures. During the picture categorization task, activity in these areas was relatively decreased when categorizing erotic as compared to romantic pictures. Thus, the emotional intensity of the pictures strongly affected brain regions devoted to the control of task-related word or picture processing. These findings are discussed with respect to the interplay of obligatory stimulus processing with task-related attentional control mechanisms.
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