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Under the microscope: the midcingulate cortex

This month: The midcingulate cortex

Microscope

What is the midcingulate cortex?

It is mysterious area of the brain located deep in the cerebral cortex, the function of which has remained elusive to researchers, despite decades of research.

Has this been in the news?

Yes, it has indeed. Researchers claim that they have a “promising new way to understand what the midcingulate cortex (MCC) does”. This is significant as dysfunction of this brain area is implicated in a variety of neurocognitive disorders, including Parkinson’s disease, ADHD and depression.

What do we already know about it?

Previous research suggests the MCC may help sustain the execution of difficult or mundane tasks. But isolating its exact function is difficult, as it is activated by most events in most tasks.

So what happened with the new research?

A computational model was used to predict the functions of the MCC while people performed a series of daily tasks on a computer, such as making tea or coffee, while their brains were scanned using neuroimaging. The results of an innovative data analysis technique showed that the MCC tracks the progression of a task during its execution, which is encoded as complex patterns of activity across the brain area.

What does that mean?

It suggests that standard approaches for analysing MCC function overlook the major portion of information encoded by this brain area. Rather, they indicate that MCC encodes the distances between representations of task events in task space, revealing how the MCC sustains the execution of extended behaviours.

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