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Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2009 Apr 7;106(14):5948-53. doi: 10.1073/pnas.0812035106. Epub 2009 Mar 17.

Electrophysiological correlates of default-mode processing in macaque posterior cingulate cortex.

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Department of Neurobiology, Center for Neuroeconomic Studies, Center for Cognitive Neuroscience, Duke University School of Medicine, Durham, NC 27710, USA.


During the course of daily activity, our level of engagement with the world varies on a moment-to-moment basis. Although these fluctuations in vigilance have critical consequences for our thoughts and actions, almost nothing is known about the neuronal substrates governing such dynamic variations in task engagement. We investigated the hypothesis that the posterior cingulate cortex (CGp), a region linked to default-mode processing by hemodynamic and metabolic measures, controls such variations. We recorded the activity of single neurons in CGp in 2 macaque monkeys performing simple tasks in which their behavior varied from vigilant to inattentive. We found that firing rates were reliably suppressed during task performance and returned to a higher resting baseline between trials. Importantly, higher firing rates predicted errors and slow behavioral responses, and were also observed during cued rest periods when monkeys were temporarily liberated from exteroceptive vigilance. These patterns of activity were not observed in the lateral intraparietal area, an area linked to the frontoparietal attention network. Our findings provide physiological confirmation that CGp mediates exteroceptive vigilance and are consistent with the idea that CGp is part of the "default network" of brain areas associated with control of task engagement.

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