The Area of ​​the Brain Thought to Provide Consciousness Acts More Like an Internet Router

A new study has advanced a new theory that the brain’s claustrum acts less like the “seat of consciousness” as previously thought, and more like an internet router that receives and broadcasts signals for complex cognitive tasks. The research is published Trends in Cognitive Science.

A study of the function of the claustrum

The claustrum is a region located beneath the cerebral cortex. It has long been thought to exchange signals with the cortex.

Renowned scientist Francis Crick, best known for his role in the discovery of the DNA double helix, posthumously posthumously proposed in 2005 that the claustrum is the “seat of consciousness,” theorizing its role in our understanding of the world and ourselves.

However, researchers at the University of Maryland School of Medicine (UMSOM) have suggested that Crick’s theory may be wrong. In this new study, they argue that the claustrum acts more like a high-speed internet router than the seat of consciousness.

In this example, the claustrum receives direction and commands from the “boss,” that is, areas within the cortex. The claustrum then organizes and broadcasts these signals as a wireless router for the Internet. Together, different networks are synchronized and allow us to perform cognitively challenging tasks.

“The brain is the most complex system in the known universe. It is theoretical advances based on these data that advance our knowledge toward using this complexity to improve human life,” said Dr. Brian Mathur explained. “As the brain’s highest connected structure, the claustrum is a window into the mystery of the brain, the mind.”

Knowing the coordination of these networks between the cortex and the claustrum is important because dysregulation of these systems is characteristic of many diseases, including schizophrenia, addiction, and Alzheimer’s disease. Understanding these networks and the mechanisms that support them may lead to more effective treatments for these disorders.

Evidence against Crick’s theory of consciousness

To clarify the precise role of the claustrum, Mathur and colleagues conducted a series of experiments on both animals and humans. Using a mouse model, the researchers were the first to demonstrate that “turning off” the claustrum did not result in loss of consciousness, and the mice resumed their normal activities.

The mice were then given a simple or difficult task. Under normal conditions, mice can successfully perform both simple and difficult tasks. However, the researchers found that when the claustrum was “turned off,” the mice were unable to perform the difficult tasks.

To determine whether these findings could translate to humans, Mathur set up a research study in collaboration with colleagues David Seminowicz, professor of neural and pain sciences at the UM School of Dentistry, and Fred Barrett, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins. University Faculty of Medicine.

The study examined healthy volunteers who underwent functional MRI (fMRI) brain scans while performing simple or complex mental tasks. fMRI detects areas of activity in the brain by detecting changes in blood flow. It showed only complex tasks, which resulted in the “lighting up” of the claustrum, indicating increased activity. Furthermore, this occurred alongside the activation of a network in the cortex associated with cognitive performance.

Together, these findings reject Crick’s theory of consciousness. However, Mathur explains, further experiments are needed to support this new theory of claustrum function and to understand how it might organize networks in the cortex to support cognition.

Reference: Madden MB, Stewart BW, White MG, et al. The role of the claustrum in cognitive control. TiCS. 2022;26(12):1133-1152. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2022.09.006

This article is a press release Provided by the University of Maryland. Material has been edited for length and content.

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