The part of the brain responsible for consciousness acts more like an internet router
By: April Carson
This could mean that consciousness acts as a gateway between different parts of the brain, allowing for information to be processed and sent from place to place. The conscious part of the brain is thought to act like an internet router, directing traffic in between areas and keeping track of what goes where.
Underneath the cortex, which is wrinkly and outermost layer of the brain, lies a deeply mysterious area known as the claustrum. This region has long been known to exchange signals with much of the cortex - responsible for higher reasoning and complex thought. That said, it remains unclear what its exact role is in the process of consciousness. Recent studies have revealed that the claustrum is integral to consciousness, acting as a kind of switchboard which keeps track of where signals are going and coming from. In order for us to be conscious and aware, it appears that this area is necessary.
The claustrum's many connections led Francis Crick, Ph.D., to theorize in 2005 that this region is where consciousness comes from--in other words, the part of the brain that helps us be aware of ourselves and the world around us.
However, new research from the University of Maryland School of Medicine suggests that Crick may have been incorrect. Their data-backed theory posits that the claustrum functions more like a highspeed internet router. It processes executive commands from various “boss” areas in the cortex to generate complex networks within thoughts. This would explain why it’s thought to be involved in activities such as language and memory processing.
The claustrum acts like a router to help manage the different networks that come together to complete the various tasks we do every day.
The cortex and claustrum work together to form brain networks, which is important because many disorders (addiction, Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia) tend to make these networks disorganized. If we understand how the brain forms these networks, it might help us develop better therapies for treating cognitive problems in these disorders.
So, while more research is needed to fully understand the role of the claustrum in consciousness, it’s clear that this understudied part of the brain plays a significant role in how we think and interact with the world. Understanding its role could open up new avenues for treating cognitive disorders.
The brain is the most complex system in the known universe, said Brian Mathur, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Pharmacology at UMSOM. Data-driven theoretical advances are what propels our knowledge forward and enables us to harness that complexity for improving human life.
The claustrum is the most interconnected structure in the brain, which makes it a valuable tool for researchers looking to better understand the complex workings of the brain and mind. Recent research suggests that the claustrum may act more like an internet router than previously thought.
Dr. Mathur and his team conducted several experiments on both animals and humans to pinpoint the claustrum's specific function. In one experiment, they employed cutting-edge neuroscience techniques to deactivate the claustrum in conscious mice. These rodents didn't lose consciousness but kept running around as usual--a finding that counters Crick's theory.
The researchers conducted two different trials with mice- a simple task and a difficult task. They observed how the mice responded to each situation when the claustrum was turned off. What they found was that without the claustrum, the mice could no longer successfully complete the difficult trial. This suggests that the claustrum plays an important role in helping animals and humans make complex decisions.
After coming across this finding, Dr. Mathur decided to consult with his colleagues David Seminowicz, Ph.D., Professor of Neural and Pain Sciences at the UM School of Dentistry, and Fred Barrett, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine to see if it had any relevancy to humans.
The three researchers organized a study using functional MRI brain scans on healthy volunteers. The volunteers were given either simple or complicated mental tasks to test how their brains would react.
The researchers discovered that the claustrum was only active when the test subjects were completing the more challenging tasks. This event lined up with the activation of a different part of the brain which is linked to optimal cognitive performance. Thus, this research provides two pieces of evidence against Crick's theory on consciousness. Firstly, the claustrum is not always active and secondly it does not seem to be related to consciousness.
Mark T. Gladwin, MD comments on the importance of understanding how networks are formed in the brain for treating issues such as addiction and Alzheimer's disease.
Dr. Mathur's new hypothesis provides a framework to create better therapeutic strategies, something that has been needed for some time. Dr. Mathur also hopes that this research will inspire future studies to uncover the complexity of human consciousness and its connection to other parts of the brain. The ultimate goal is to understand why humans are conscious and how it can be regulated for therapeutic purposes.
The new study findings were published in Trends In Cognitive Sciences.
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About the Blogger:
April Carson is the daughter of Billy Carson. She received her bachelor's degree in Social Sciences from Jacksonville University, where she was also on the Women's Basketball team. She now has a successful clothing company that specializes in organic baby clothes and other items. Take a look at their most popular fall fashions on bossbabymav.com
To read more of April's blogs, check out her website! She publishes new blogs on a daily basis, including the most helpful mommy advice and baby care tips! Follow on IG @bossbabymav
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