Author(s): Cavanna AE, Trimble MR
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Abstract Functional neuroimaging studies have started unravelling unexpected functional attributes for the posteromedial portion of the parietal lobe, the precuneus. This cortical area has traditionally received little attention, mainly because of its hidden location and the virtual absence of focal lesion studies. However, recent functional imaging findings in healthy subjects suggest a central role for the precuneus in a wide spectrum of highly integrated tasks, including visuo-spatial imagery, episodic memory retrieval and self-processing operations, namely first-person perspective taking and an experience of agency. Furthermore, precuneus and surrounding posteromedial areas are amongst the brain structures displaying the highest resting metabolic rates (hot spots) and are characterized by transient decreases in the tonic activity during engagement in non-self-referential goal-directed actions (default mode of brain function). Therefore, it has recently been proposed that precuneus is involved in the interwoven network of the neural correlates of self-consciousness, engaged in self-related mental representations during rest. This hypothesis is consistent with the selective hypometabolism in the posteromedial cortex reported in a wide range of altered conscious states, such as sleep, drug-induced anaesthesia and vegetative states. This review summarizes the current knowledge about the macroscopic and microscopic anatomy of precuneus, together with its wide-spread connectivity with both cortical and subcortical structures, as shown by connectional and neurophysiological findings in non-human primates, and links these notions with the multifaceted spectrum of its behavioural correlates. By means of a critical analysis of precuneus activation patterns in response to different mental tasks, this paper provides a useful conceptual framework for matching the functional imaging findings with the specific role(s) played by this structure in the higher-order cognitive functions in which it has been implicated. Specifically, activation patterns appear to converge with anatomical and connectivity data in providing preliminary evidence for a functional subdivision within the precuneus into an anterior region, involved in self-centred mental imagery strategies, and a posterior region, subserving successful episodic memory retrieval.
This article was published in Brain
and referenced in International Journal of Neurorehabilitation