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Brain structure helps guide behavior by anticipating changing demands
Date:6/24/2012

Every day the human brain is presented with tasks ranging from the trivial to the complex. How much mental effort and attention are devoted to each task is usually determined in a split second and without conscious awareness. Now a study from Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) researchers finds that a structure deep within the brain, believed to play an important role in regulating conscious control of goal-directed behavior, helps to optimize behavioral responses by predicting how difficult upcoming tasks will be. The report is receiving advance online publication in Nature.

"The dorsal anterior cingulate cortex (dACC), which lies deep beneath the outer layer of the frontal lobes, is part of an ancient and enigmatic part of the brain," says Emad Eskandar, MD, of the MGH Department of Neurosurgery, senior author of the Nature paper. "Some have speculated that it plays a role in detecting errors or monitoring for conflicting demands, but exactly how it contributes to regulating behavioral responses is unclear, so we used a variety of scientific techniques to get a better picture of its function."

The study enrolled six participants who were scheduled to undergo cingulotomy a procedure in which a small, precisely placed lesion is created within the ACC to treat severe obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) that has not responded to other types of treatment. A standard part of the cingulotomy procedure involves microelectrode recordings of the activity of single neurons in the area where the lesion is to be placed. To evaluate dACC function, the investigators recorded brain activity from several neurons within the structure while participants performed a behavioral task testing their reactions to visual images.

The task presented participants with a random series of images of three numerals, which could be 0, 1, 2, or 3. In each image, two of the numerals were identical. Participants responded by pressing one of
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Contact: Sue McGreevey
smcgreevey@partners.org
617-724-2764
Massachusetts General Hospital
Source:Eurekalert

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