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Brain. 1998 Jun;121 ( Pt 6):1013-52.

From sensation to cognition.

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Department of Neurology, Northwestern University Medical School, Chicago 60611, USA.


Sensory information undergoes extensive associative elaboration and attentional modulation as it becomes incorporated into the texture of cognition. This process occurs along a core synaptic hierarchy which includes the primary sensory, upstream unimodal, downstream unimodal, heteromodal, paralimbic and limbic zones of the cerebral cortex. Connections from one zone to another are reciprocal and allow higher synaptic levels to exert a feedback (top-down) influence upon earlier levels of processing. Each cortical area provides a nexus for the convergence of afferents and divergence of efferents. The resultant synaptic organization supports parallel as well as serial processing, and allows each sensory event to initiate multiple cognitive and behavioural outcomes. Upstream sectors of unimodal association areas encode basic features of sensation such as colour, motion, form and pitch. More complex contents of sensory experience such as objects, faces, word-forms, spatial locations and sound sequences become encoded within downstream sectors of unimodal areas by groups of coarsely tuned neurons. The highest synaptic levels of sensory-fugal processing are occupied by heteromodal, paralimbic and limbic cortices, collectively known as transmodal areas. The unique role of these areas is to bind multiple unimodal and other transmodal areas into distributed but integrated multimodal representations. Transmodal areas in the midtemporal cortex, Wernicke's area, the hippocampal-entorhinal complex and the posterior parietal cortex provide critical gateways for transforming perception into recognition, word-forms into meaning, scenes and events into experiences, and spatial locations into targets for exploration. All cognitive processes arise from analogous associative transformations of similar sets of sensory inputs. The differences in the resultant cognitive operation are determined by the anatomical and physiological properties of the transmodal node that acts as the critical gateway for the dominant transformation. Interconnected sets of transmodal nodes provide anatomical and computational epicentres for large-scale neurocognitive networks. In keeping with the principles of selectively distributed processing, each epicentre of a large-scale network displays a relative specialization for a specific behavioural component of its principal neurospychological domain. The destruction of transmodal epicentres causes global impairments such as multimodal anomia, neglect and amnesia, whereas their selective disconnection from relevant unimodal areas elicits modality-specific impairments such as prosopagnosia, pure word blindness and category-specific anomias. The human brain contains at least five anatomically distinct networks. The network for spatial awareness is based on transmodal epicentres in the posterior parietal cortex and the frontal eye fields; the language network on epicentres in Wernicke's and Broca's areas; the explicit memory/emotion network on epicentres in the hippocampal-entorhinal complex and the amygdala; the face-object recognition network on epicentres in the midtemporal and temporopolar cortices; and the working memory-executive function network on epicentres in the lateral prefrontal cortex and perhaps the posterior parietal cortex. Individual sensory modalities give rise to streams of processing directed to transmodal nodes belonging to each of these networks. The fidelity of sensory channels is actively protected through approximately four synaptic levels of sensory-fugal processing. The modality-specific cortices at these four synaptic levels encode the most veridical representations of experience. Attentional, motivational and emotional modulations, including those related to working memory, novelty-seeking and mental imagery, become increasingly more pronounced within downstream components of unimodal areas, where they help to create a highly edited subjective version of the world. (ABSTRACT TRUNCATED).

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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