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1.  Influence of highly distinctive structural properties on the excitability of pyramidal neurons in monkey visual and prefrontal cortices 
Whole-cell patch-clamp recordings and high-resolution 3D morphometric analyses of layer 3 pyramidal neurons in in vitro slices of monkey primary visual cortex (V1) and dorsolateral granular prefrontal cortex (dlPFC) revealed that neurons in these two brain areas possess highly distinctive structural and functional properties. Area V1 pyramidal neurons are much smaller than dlPFC neurons, with significantly less extensive dendritic arbors and far fewer dendritic spines. Relative to dlPFC neurons, V1 neurons have a significantly higher input resistance, depolarized resting membrane potential and higher action potential (AP) firing rates. Most V1 neurons exhibit both phasic and regular-spiking tonic AP firing patterns, while dlPFC neurons exhibit only tonic firing. Spontaneous postsynaptic currents are lower in amplitude and have faster kinetics in V1 than in dlPFC neurons, but are no different in frequency. Three-dimensional reconstructions of V1 and dlPFC neurons were incorporated into computational models containing Hodgkin-Huxley and AMPA- and GABAA-receptor gated channels. Morphology alone largely accounted for observed passive physiological properties, but led to AP firing rates that differed more than observed empirically, and to synaptic responses that opposed empirical results. Accordingly, modeling predicts that active channel conductances differ between V1 and dlPFC neurons. The unique features of V1 and dlPFC neurons are likely fundamental determinants of area-specific network behavior. The compact electrotonic arbor and increased excitability of V1 neurons support the rapid signal integration required for early processing of visual information. The greater connectivity and dendritic complexity of dlPFC neurons likely support higher level cognitive functions including working memory and planning.
PMCID: PMC3485081  PMID: 23035077
2.  Spontaneous brain activity relates to autonomic arousal 
Although possible sources and functions of the resting state networks (RSN) of the brain have been proposed, most evidence relies on circular logic and reverse inference. We propose that autonomic arousal provides an objective index of psychophysiological states during rest that may also function as a driving source of the activity and connectivity of RSN. Recording blood oxygenation level-dependent (BOLD) signal using functional magnetic resonance imaging and skin conductance simultaneously during rest in human subjects, we found that the spontaneous fluctuations of BOLD signals in key nodes of RSN are associated with changes in non-specific skin conductance response, a sensitive psychophysiological index of autonomic arousal. Our findings provide evidence of an important role for the autonomic nervous system to the spontaneous activity of the brain during ‘rest’.
PMCID: PMC3435430  PMID: 22895703
resting-state functional connectivity MRI; autonomic arousal; skin conductance response; interoception; consciousness
3.  Functional Dissociation of the Frontoinsular and Anterior Cingulate Cortices in Empathy for Pain 
The frontoinsular cortex (FI) and the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) are known to be involved in empathy for others’ pain. However, the functional roles of FI and ACC in empathetic responses have not yet been clearly dissociated in previous studies. In this study, participants viewed color photographs depicting human body parts (hands or feet) in painful or non-painful situations and performed either pain judgment (painful/non-painful) or laterality judgment (left/right) of the body parts. We found that activation of FI, rather than ACC, showed significant increase for painful compared to non-painful images, regardless of the task requirement. These findings suggest a clear functional dissociation between FI and ACC in which FI is more domain-specific than ACC in processing of empathy for pain.
PMCID: PMC2845539  PMID: 20220007
empathy; fMRI; insula; anterior cingulate cortex; pain; Emotion
4.  Shaping of white matter composition by biophysical scaling constraints 
The brains of large mammals have lower rates of metabolism than those of small mammals, but the functional consequences of this scaling are not well understood. An attractive target for analysis is axons, whose size, speed and energy consumption are straightforwardly related. Here we show that from shrews to whales, the composition of white matter shifts from compact, slow-conducting, and energetically expensive unmyelinated axons to large, fast-conducting, and energetically inexpensive myelinated axons. The fastest axons have conduction times of 1–5 milliseconds across the neocortex and less than 1 millisecond from the eye to the brain, suggesting that in select sets of communicating fibers, large brains reduce transmission delays and metabolic firing costs at the expense of increased volume. Delays and potential imprecision in cross-brain conduction times are especially great in unmyelinated axons, which may transmit information via firing rate rather than precise spike timing. In neocortex, axon size distributions can account for the scaling of per-volume metabolic rate and suggest a maximum supportable firing rate, averaged across all axons, of 7 ± 2 Hz. Axon size distributions also account for the scaling of white matter volume with respect to brain size. The heterogeneous white matter composition found in large brains thus reflects a metabolically constrained trade-off that reduces both volume and conduction time.
PMCID: PMC2779774  PMID: 18400904
Allometry; Axon scaling; Conduction; Evolution; Optimization; Timing

Results 1-4 (4)