Highlights • During the normal waking state, the brain is in a constant state of internal exploration through the formation and dissolution of resting-state functional networks. • Based on large-scale computer models of the brain, the best fit to observed data comes when the networks are at the ‘edge of instability’. • Such a position is a distinct advantage for the efficiency and speed of network mobilization for perception and action. • We provide theoretical and empirical questions to better link resting-state networks to cognitive architectures.
A basic feature of intelligent systems such as the cerebral cortex is the ability to freely associate aspects of perceived experience with an internal representation of the world and make predictions about the future. Here, a hypothesis is presented that the extraordinary performance of the cortex derives from an associative mechanism built in at the cellular level to the basic cortical neuronal unit: the pyramidal cell. The mechanism is robustly triggered by coincident input to opposite poles of the neuron, is exquisitely matched to the large- and fine-scale architecture of the cortex, and is tightly controlled by local microcircuits of inhibitory neurons targeting subcellular compartments. This article explores the experimental evidence and the implications for how the cortex operates.
Synchronised neuronal oscillations at beta frequencies are prevalent in the human motor system, but their function is unclear. In this Opinion article, we propose that the levels of beta oscillations provide a measure of the likelihood that a new voluntary action will need to be actuated. Oscillatory beta activity is in turn modulated by net dopamine levels at sites of cortical input to the basal ganglia. We hypothesise that net dopamine levels are modulated in response to salient internal and external cues. Crucially, the resulting modulation of beta activity is predictive, enabling the appropriate prospective resourcing and preparation of potential actions. Loss of dopamine, as in Parkinson's disease, annuls this function, unless net dopaminergic activity can be elevated through medication.
Neuroelectric oscillations reflect rhythmic shifting of neuronal ensembles between high and low excitability states. In natural settings, important stimuli often occur in rhythmic streams, and when oscillations entrain to an input rhythm their high excitability phases coincide with events in the stream, effectively amplifying neuronal input responses. When operating in a ‘rhythmic mode’, attention can use these differential excitability states as a mechanism of selection by simply enforcing oscillatory entrainment to a task-relevant input stream. When there is no low-frequency rhythm that oscillations can entrain to, attention operates in a ‘continuous mode’, characterized by extended increase in gamma synchrony. We review the evidence for early sensory selection by oscillatory phase-amplitude modulations, its mechanisms and its perceptual and behavioral consequences.
Information that is congruent with existing knowledge (a schema) is usually better remembered than less congruent information. Only recently, however, has the role of schemas in memory been studied from a systems neuroscience perspective. Moreover, incongruent (novel) information is also sometimes better remembered. Here, we review lesion and neuroimaging findings in animals and humans that relate to this apparent paradoxical relationship between schema and novelty. In addition, we sketch a framework relating key brain regions in medial temporal lobe (MTL) and medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) during encoding, consolidation and retrieval of information as a function of its congruency with existing information represented in neocortex. An important aspect of this framework is the efficiency of learning enabled by congruency-dependent MTL–mPFC interactions.
Several theories have proposed possible functions of adult neurogenesis in learning processes on a systems level, such as the avoidance of catastrophic interference and the encoding of temporal and contextual information, and in emotional behavior. Under the assumption of such functionality of new neurons, the question arises: what are the consequences of adult hippocampal neurogenesis beyond the temporally immediate computational benefit? What might provide the evolutionary advantage of maintaining neurogenesis in the dentate gyrus but almost nowhere else? I propose that over the course of life, activity-dependently regulated adult neurogenesis reveals its true significance in the retained ability for lasting and cumulative network adaptations. The hippocampal precursor cells that generate new neurons with their particular acute function represent a ‘neurogenic reserve’: the potential to remain flexible and plastic in hippocampal learning when the individual is exposed to novelty and complexity.
Forebrain dopamine circuitry has traditionally been studied by two largely independent specialist groups: students of Parkinson's disease who study the nigrostriatal dopamine system that originates in the substantia nigra (SN), and students of motivation and addiction who study the role of the mesolimbic and mesocortical dopamine systems that originate in the ventral tegmental area (VTA). The anatomical evidence for independent nigrostriatal and mesolimbic dopamine systems has, however, long been obsolete. There is now compelling evidence that both nominal “systems” participate in reward function and addiction. Electrical stimulation of both SN and VTA is rewarding, blockade of glutamatergic or cholinergic input to either SN or VTA attenuates the habit-forming effects of intravenous cocaine, and dopamine in both nigrostriatal and mesocorticolimbic terminal fields participates in the defining property of rewarding events: the reinforcement of memory consolidation. Thus, the similarities between nigrostriatal and mesolimbic dopamine systems can be as important as their differences.
Early-life stress lastingly affects adult cognition and increases vulnerability to psychopathology, but the underlying mechanisms remain elusive. In this Opinion article, we propose that early nutritional input together with stress hormones and sensory stimuli from the mother during the perinatal period act synergistically to program the adult brain, possibly via epigenetic mechanisms. We hypothesize that stress during gestation or lactation affects the intake of macro- and micronutrients, including dietary methyl donors, and/or impairs the dam's metabolism, thereby altering nutrient composition and intake by the offspring. In turn, this may persistently modulate gene expression via epigenetic programming, thus altering hippocampal structure and cognition. Understanding how the combination of stress, nutrition, and epigenetics shapes the adult brain is essential for effective therapies.
LINE-1 (L1) elements are retrotransposons that insert extra copies of themselves throughout the genome using a ‘copy and paste’ mechanism. L1s comprise nearly ∼20% of the human genome and are able to influence chromosome integrity and gene expression upon reinsertion. Recent studies show that L1 elements are active and ‘jumping’ during neuronal differentiation. New somatic L1 insertions could generate ‘genomic plasticity’ in neurons by causing variation in genomic DNA sequences and by altering the transcriptome of individual cells. Thus, L1-induced variation could affect neuronal plasticity and behavior. We discuss potential consequences of L1-induced neuronal diversity and propose that a mechanism for generating diversity in the brain could broaden the spectrum of behavioral phenotypes that can originate from any single genome.
The activation of NMDA receptors (NMDARs) is conditioned by the binding of a co-agonist to a dedicated receptor binding site. It is now largely accepted that D-serine plays this role at many central synapses in the hippocampus, amygdala, hypothalamus, nucleus accumbens, and in prefrontal, visual, and somatosensory cortices. D-Serine has been found to be synthesized, stored, and released by astrocytes ( Figure 1 ). However, several immunolabeling studies and experiments in genetically modified animals have recently led to a suggestion that neurons are primarily responsible for the synthesis and release of D-serine  . Here we argue that such conclusions could have resulted from the erroneous interpretation of experimental data and that they are at odds with a substantial amount of published work.