A study published this week in PNAS provides a comprehensive comparative functional anatomy study in human and monkey brains which reveals highly similar brain networks preserved across evolution. An international collaboration co-led by scientists at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City examined patterns of connectivity to show that the precuneus, long thought to be a single structure, is actually divided into four distinct functional regions. These areas were identified using “resting state” functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI)—a recently emerging approach that allows scientists to map a multitude of brain networks using only six minutes of data acquired while an individual lies in the scanner at rest. The results of these brief imaging sessions were comparable to definitive findings in monkeys examined microscopically.
Located in the posterior portion of the brain’s medial wall, the precuneus has traditionally received little attention in the neuroimaging and neuropsychological literatures. However, recent functional neuroimaging studies have started to implicate the precuneus in a variety of high level cognitive functions, including episodic memory, self-related processing, and aspects of consciousness.
“The findings confirm that higher order association areas in the brain have complex functional architectures which appear to be preserved and or expanded during the evolutionary process,” said study co-leader, Michael P. Milham, MD, PhD, the associate director of the Phyllis Greene and Randolph Cowen Institute for Pediatric Neuroscience at the NYU Child Study Center and assistant professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center. “The fMRI approaches provide a powerful tool for translational science, making comparative studies of the brain’s functional neuroanatomy studies across species possible.”
Study co-authors also include F. Xavier Castellanos, MD, the Brooke and Daniel Neidich Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center, Michael Petrides, PhD, professor of psychology at the Montreal Neurological Institute at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, and Daniel S. Margulies, PhD, from the Berlin School of Mind and Brain at Humboldt University in Berlin, Germany, the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive Brain Sciences in Leipzig, Germany.
Other collaborators include scientists from the Department of Psychology at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, the Athinoula A. Martinos Center for Biomedical Imaging at Massachusetts General Hospital in Charlestown, Massachusetts, the Department of Psychiatry at Stanford University School of Medicine in Stanford, California, the Department of Radiology at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey in Newark, New Jersey, the Nathan Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research in Orangeburg, New York, and the Montreal Neurological Institute at McGill University in Montreal, Canada.
The study was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and the National Institute of Mental Health in Bethesda, Maryland.
212-404-3555 | Dorie.Klissas@nyumc.org