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Converging evidence for the role of transmodal cortex in cognition

  1. Jonathan Smallwoodb,1
  1. aMax Planck Research Group for Neuroanatomy & Connectivity, Max Planck Institute for Cognition and Brain Sciences, 04103 Leipzig, Germany;
  2. bDepartment of Psychology, University of York, Heslington, YO10 5DD York, United Kingdom

The studies by Vidaurre et al. (1) and Vatansever et al. (2) in PNAS provide contrasting, yet complementary insights into the role that regions of transmodal cortex, including those in the default mode network (DMN) (3) and the fronto-parietal network (FPN) (4), play in cognition.

Vatansever et al. (2) used task-based fMRI to illustrate how the DMN and FPN work collectively to guide complex behavior. In their study, participants performed the Wisconsin Card Sorting Task (WCST) (5) while brain activity was measured using fMRI. In this task, participants sort shapes based on features (color, shape, or number). The feature is not revealed to the participant at the outset of a block of trials, and must instead be learned based on feedback presented after each trial. The feedback is used to identify the current feature rule, which is then applied on subsequent trials. Periodically, the rule changes and feedback is used to update the current goal representation. Vatansever et al. (2) demonstrate that the FPN is active after a rule change—the “acquisition phase”—suggesting its involvement in encoding the contingencies upon which the sorting decision is based. In later sections of the block—the “application phase”—when the individual understands the rule, activity within the FPN is reduced, and activity within the DMN increases (Fig. 1A). Therefore, the activity within the DMN corresponds to periods when contingencies determining cognitive decisions are established. Additionally, and importantly, Vatansever et al. (2) show that patterns of increased DMN connectivity are also linked to better response latency during correct trials. Together, these results corroborate recent studies showing that the DMN supports external task processing when behavior depends on preexisting representations guiding cognition (6??9).

Fig. 1.

Brain states demonstrating the active role of the DMN and FPN in cognition. …

?1To whom correspondence may be addressed. Email: margulies{at}cbs.mpg.de or jonny.smallwood{at}york.ac.uk.

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