The Area of ​​the Brain That Thinks It Gives Consciousness Acts Like an Internet Router Instead

Newswise — Hidden beneath the brain’s outer, wrinkled cortex is a deeply mysterious area known as the claustrum. This region has long exchanged signals with much of the cortex, which is responsible for higher thinking and complex thinking. Because of the extensive connections of the claustrum, the legendary scientist Francis Crick, famous for the discovery of DNA, first proposed in 2005 that the claustrum is the seat of consciousness. In other words, the region of the brain that allows us to understand the world and ourselves.

Researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine now argue that Crick may be wrong: They have developed a new theory based on the data – that the claustrum acts more like a high-speed Internet router and receives executive orders. “boss” areas of the cerebral cortex that form complex thoughts to form “networks” in the cortex. Acting as a router, the claustrum coordinates these networks to work together to perform the many different cognitively demanding tasks we perform at every moment in everyday life.

Understanding how the brain forms and coordinates these networks in the cortex through the claustrum is important because disorganized networks are a typical feature of many diseases, such as addiction, Alzheimer’s disease, and schizophrenia. This insight may lead to better treatments to address cognitive dysfunction in these disorders.

“The brain is the most complex system in the known universe. It is these data-driven theoretical advances that advance our knowledge toward harnessing this complexity to improve human life,” said Brian Mathur, PhD, Associate Professor of Pharmacology at UMSOM. “As the brain’s highest connected structure, the claustrum is a window into the mystery of the brain, the mind.”

Their new findings and hypotheses were published on September 30, 2022 Trends in Cognitive Science.

To determine the precise role of the claustrum, Dr. Mathur and his colleagues conducted rigorous experiments on both animals and humans. One experiment used modern neuroscience approaches to disable the claustrum in conscious mice. These mice did not lose consciousness and continued to run normally. A strike against Crick’s theory!

The researchers then gave the mice a cognitively simple or difficult task and compared how they responded when the claustrum was turned off. Normally, a mouse can perform both simple and complex tasks. However, when the researchers turned off the claustrum, the mice were unable to complete the more difficult task.

Dr. wondering if this finding has anything to do with people. Mathur collaborated with colleagues David Seminowicz, PhD, Professor of Neurological and Pain Sciences at the UM School of Dentistry, and Johns Fred Barrett, Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. Hopkins University School of Medicine. The three conducted a research study in which they performed functional MRI brain scans on healthy volunteers engaged in simple or complex mental tasks. The researchers observed that their claustrum only “lit up” when they performed the difficult version of the task. This event coincided with the activation of a network in the cortex involved in optimal cognitive performance. Strike two against Crick’s theory of consciousness!

Dr. Mathur said the strike would be third when further experiments support their theory of claustrum function. By doing this, Dr. Mathur and his colleagues are trying to understand how the claustrum learns and adapts to networks in the cortex to help support cognition.

“Understanding how the brain flexibly forms and coordinates these networks—through the claustrum—is critical to treating cognitive decline in addiction, Alzheimer’s disease, and schizophrenia,” he said. Mark T. Gladwin, MD, UMSOM Distinguished Professor and Dean, Vice President for Medical Affairs, University of Maryland, Baltimore and John Z. and Akiko K. Bowers.

Dr. Mathur added, “Our hypothesis provides us with a much-needed conceptual framework for developing new therapeutic strategies.”

The study was funded by the NIH’s National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (grant R01AA028070).

Dr. Barrett is on the scientific advisory board of Wavepaths, Ltd. and a scientific advisor to Mindstate Design Labs, Inc.

About the University of Maryland School of Medicine

Now in its third century, the University of Maryland School of Medicine was founded in 1807 as the first public medical school in the United States. Today, it continues as one of the world’s fastest-growing, top-ranked biomedical research institutions—including 46 academic departments, centers, institutes, and programs, and a faculty of more than 3,000 physicians, scientists, and allied health professionals, including members of the National Academy of Medicine and Distinguished double winner of the National Academy of Sciences and the Albert E. Lasker Award for Medical Research. With an operating budget of more than $1.3 billion, the School of Medicine works closely with the University of Maryland Medical Center and Medical System to provide research-intensive, academic and clinical-based care to nearly 2 million patients each year. The Faculty of Medicine has approximately $600 million in external funding, with most of its academic departments ranking high among all medical schools in the country in research funding. As one of seven professional schools that make up the University of Maryland’s Baltimore campus, the School of Medicine has nearly 9,000 faculty and staff, including 2,500 students, trainees, residents and fellows. The combined Medical School and System of Medicine (the “University of Maryland Medical School”) has an annual budget of more than $6 billion and an economic impact of nearly $20 billion on the state and local community. Medical School attending as 8th highest is an innovator in translational medicine with 606 active patents and 52 start-up companies among public medical schools in research productivity (according to the American College of Medical Colleges profile). UM School of Medicine in latest US News & World Report ranking of best medical schools published in 2021 It ranks 9th among 92 public medical schools in the United States and in the first 15 percent (#27) all 192 public and private US medical schools. The School of Medicine works locally, nationally and globally with research and treatment facilities in 36 countries around the world. visit

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