“MIRROR NEURONS” -  Daniela Biganzoli (Dab) Tecnica mista su tela – 40 x 40 – 2011 collected via google search on mirror neurons and links to its source La Cultura Come Medicina. Image is not originally attached to the article.

“MIRROR NEURONS” – Daniela Biganzoli (Dab)
Tecnica mista su tela – 40 x 40 – 2011
collected via google search on mirror neurons and links to its source                                La Cultura Come Medicina.
Image is not originally attached to the article.

frontiers

IN HUMAN NEUROSCIENCE

Self through the mirror (neurons) and default mode network: what neuroscientists found and what can still be found there

Stefano Sandrone  1,2*

1  NATBRAINLAB – Neuroanatomy and Tractography Brain Laboratory, Department of Forensic and Neurodevelopmental Sciences, Institute of Psychiatry, King’s College, London, UK

2  Institute of Neuroinformatics, University of Zurich and ETH Zurich, Zurich, Switzerland

Front. Hum. Neurosci., 24 July 2013doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00383

A search for the word self in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy finds 1187 entries: trying to give a complete definition of this concept is not so easy. It is a great puzzle that states who we are in the world, as Alice in Wonderland once argued, afraid she could not explain herself when she came across the Caterpillar.

Unfortunately, we cannot use such an excuse. Furthermore, as neuroscientists, trying to depict the self from a scientific perspective seems to get harder and harder the deeper we get into our knowledge of the brain’s structure and functions. Generally speaking, the self has been seen through different lenses, according to the dominant zeitgeist.

Classical cross-cultural studies confirmed what was intuitively conceivable: the concept of the self is highly varied across social groups and across traditions, mainly clustered around the well-characterized dichotomy between western and eastern visions (Markus and Kitayama, 1991Baumeister and Finkel, 2010Martínez Mateo et al., 2013), where the first is considered more independent and the latter more interconnected. In recent years, research on the self has significantly increased thanks to the cross-fertilization of disciplines that were once considered separated, such as philosophy, psychology, psychiatry, and neuroscience (Gallagher, 2011) and, to a certain extent, all the other neuro-related disciplines such as neuroethics, neuroesthetics, and neuroeconomics (Legrenzi and Umiltà, 2011).

Old questions can now be addressed through recently developed – and still improving – technological tools falling under the term “neuroimaging,” such as positron emission tomography (PET) or functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). As the self is by definition multifaceted and polyhedral both in space and time, the flourishing of new, twisted viewpoints is thus useful to further shape and deepen our knowledge on this intriguing topic. Remarkably, the investigation on the self benefits from two of the most recent discoveries, both of them claimed to be serendipitous, made in the highly interdisciplinary field of neuroscience: the Mirror Neuron System (MNS) and the Default Mode Network (DMN). On the one side, the MNS mechanisms first unify execution and perception of an action, with a set of neurons, ranging from premotor and supplementary motor areas to primary somatosensory and inferior parietal cortices, coding for a precise action and activated also in the observers’ motor system (Cattaneo and Rizzolatti, 2009Keysers et al., 2010).

Although it has been sometimes misinterpreted (Rizzolatti and Sinigaglia, 2010), MNS is crucial for the study of the self. In fact, frontoparietal mirror neuron areas are crucial for the motor-simulation mechanisms, as well as cortical midline structures engaged in self-related information processing (Uddin et al., 2007) both in normal and pathological brain, as it can be seen for example in autistic (Enticott et al., 2012Gallese et al., 2013) and schizophrenic subjects (Ferri et al., 2012McCormick et al., 2012Mehta et al., 2012). On the other side, since 2001 it has been understood that when an individual is alerted though not actively engaged in cognitive tasks, spontaneously organized neural activity occurs in a unique constellation of brain regions called DMN and involving the posterior cingulate cortex, the precuneus, and regions of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex (Raichle et al., 2001; for an account of its discovery please refer to Raichle and Snyder, 2007Buckner, 2012).

The DMN has been consistently reported to be related to self-referential processing. In fact, activations and deactivations of DMN brain regions have often been related to self-specific processes in both healthy and diseased conditions (Gusnard et al., 2001Sheline et al., 2009Irish et al., 2012). Each area of the DMN seems to be involved in different subfunctions of self-referential processing (van Buuren et al., 2010), and a detailed map of the anatomo-functional DMN subregions is currently in progress (Salomon et al., 2013). Even though some methodological caveats should be properly addressed and hopefully solved in the next years as far as resting states are concerned (Northoff et al., 20102011), it is more and more evident that the boundaries between the perception of the “self” and the “other” should be pivotally found (also) around the CMS. Furthermore, being directly involved into both MNS and DMN, the self is at a crossroads between these two discoveries, and it is conceivable that in the near future such research on the self will be better valorized and further propelled through new insights that can directly derive from studying the MNS and DMN. The relationship between MNS and the self as well as its links with the study of the self and internal/external stimuli started to be discussed both for MNS (Sinigaglia and Rizzolatti, 2011) and DMN (Qin and Northoff, 2011), but a synergy between researchers from different subfields (of neuroscience and above) is strongly required to further look at the self through the mirror neurons and the DMN looking glass.

Remarkably, the first evidence of mirror neurons was obtained in monkeys with electrophysiological studies (di Pellegrino et al., 1992) and then replicated on man with neuroimaging techniques (Kilner et al., 2009; but see also Lingnau et al., 2009), electrophysiological recordings (Mukamel et al., 2010), and cerebral stimulation devices (Cattaneo et al., 2010Avenanti and Urgesi, 2011). Instead, the opposite happened for the DMN. Experiments were carried out first on humans, then on chimpanzees (Rilling et al., 2007), monkeys (Kojima et al., 2009Mantini et al., 2011) and, more recently, on rats (Lu et al., 2012), thus suggesting that DMN can be a crucial aspect of the mammalian brain. Replicating the data obtained from the “Mirror Test” (Gallup, 19701994Gallup et al., 2004) and investigating the emerging self, MNS, and DMN while performing the test or during the resting state may provide deep insight, and may help describe the emergence of the self from an evolutive perspective. Moreover, DMN activity has been longitudinally elucidated across the whole life cycle, namely from its emergence in 2-day-old newborns (Gao et al., 2009) to its disappearance in dead brain patients (Boly et al., 2009). Similarly, the ontogeny of social relationship has been addressed from twin fetuses (Castiello et al., 2010) onward (Kilner and Blakemore, 2007Lepage and Théoret, 2007).

Therefore, the developmental and maturational processes and the boundaries of the self can be further addressed with a combined MNS and DMN approach. In addition, both MNS and DMN seem to be altered in neurological and psychiatric conditions (Iacoboni and Dapretto, 2006Sandrone, 20122013), and, interestingly, abnormalities and disruptions recently started to be studied as predictive behavioral markers and clinical diagnostic tools. Future investigations will be aimed at capitalizing on clinical studies on neurological and psychiatric patients in order to improve the ability of DMN in discriminating single patients from single healthy controls with increasing sensitivity and high specificity, and if possible, to realize a joint MNS and DMN-based functional taxonomy of self-related diseases. Variations in the functional connectome will then hopefully be further linked and attributed to clinical variables as well (Castellanos et al., 2013), in the framework of the widely spreading connectomic approach (Griffa et al., 2013) and of the future development of recently emerged biological technique (Chung and Deisseroth, 2013Chung et al., 2013).

There are very good premises to add new chapters in the challenging pursuit of the boundaries of the self in the brain. A work on the self deals with the more intimate meaning of mankind and, quoting the writer Lewis Carroll, will make all of us once again “curiouser and curiouser” toward the wonderland of neuroscience.

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TK Recommends

Acknowledgments, References, Citation information

A copy of this article in pdf file
for your own personal archiving reasons

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Further Reading

from the references of the article, in secured pdf files

Understanding ‘what’ others do- mirror mechanisms play a crucial role in action perception

Functional connectivity in the default network during resting state is preserved in a vegetative but not in a brain dead patient

The serendipitous discovery of the brain’s default network

Clinical applications of the functional connectome

Wired to Be Social- The Ontogeny of Human Interaction

JAMA Network | JAMA Neurology | The Mirror Neuron System

State-Dependent TMS Reveals a Hierarchical Representation of Observed Acts in the Temporal, Parietal, and Premotor Cortices

CLARITY for mapping the nervous system : Nature Methods : Nature Publishing Group

Medial prefrontal cortex and self-referential mental activity- Relation to a default mode of brain function

Essentializing the binary self- individualism and collectivism in cultural neuroscience

Brain imaging of the self Conceptual, anatomical and methodological issues

The self and social cognition- the role of cortical midline structures and mirror neurons

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A living cortical neuron in a culture dish. Red and green dots reveal synapses—potential communication junctions between neurons. Credit: Don Arnold, University of Southern California Watching Neuron Attachments in Real Time Posted on July 25, 2013 by Dr. Francis Collins This glittering web is actually a live nerve cell, or neuron, in which its branches are labeled with glowing probes. Each dot reveals a potential junction between neurons—called a synapse—where chemicals are released allowing the cells to talk to each other. The red dots reveal inhibitory synapses—which silence electrical signals—whereas the green dots show the excitatory synapses that promote electrical signals. The balance of inhibitory and excitatory pulses affects the behavior of the neuron. With this new labeling technique, NIH-funded researchers from the University of Southern California have given us a real time window into the complex microscopic anatomy of a neuron without interfering with its function. For a long time it has been thought that when a memory is stored, the pattern of synapses on individual neurons changes. Now we can watch in real time as that happens, both in healthy neurons and in neurons in animals where synapses do not change appropriately; for instance in animal models of autism, mental retardation, or Alzheimer’s disease [...]

A living cortical neuron in a culture dish. Red and green dots reveal synapses—potential communication junctions between neurons.
Credit: Don Arnold, University of Southern California

Watching Neuron Attachments in Real Time

Posted on July 25, 2013 by Dr. Francis Collins
This glittering web is actually a live nerve cell, or neuron, in which its branches are labeled with glowing probes. Each dot reveals a potential junction between neurons—called a synapse—where chemicals are released allowing the cells to talk to each other. The red dots reveal inhibitory synapses—which silence electrical signals—whereas the green dots show the excitatory synapses that promote electrical signals.
The balance of inhibitory and excitatory pulses affects the behavior of the neuron. With this new labeling technique, NIH-funded researchers from the University of Southern California have given us a real time window into the complex microscopic anatomy of a neuron without interfering with its function. For a long time it has been thought that when a memory is stored, the pattern of synapses on individual neurons changes. Now we can watch in real time as that happens, both in healthy neurons and in neurons in animals where synapses do not change appropriately; for instance in animal models of autism, mental retardation, or Alzheimer’s disease […]

 



###

Footnote to the book of Knowledge

reference:

Self through the mirror (neurons) and default mode network: what neuroscientists found and what can still be found there

Stefano Sandrone Front. Hum. Neurosci., 24 July 2013 | doi: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00383

” Know thyself ”
The dominant meaning, among many attributed to this aphorism that comes from the ancient Greek litterature, is self awareness.
The concept of giving a complete definition to the word ” self ” has been proven puzzling and difficult.
How am I aware of  ” myself  ” and the ” others ”  ?
Self has been seen through different lenses, philosophical, scientific, cultural and social.

For self in the brain definition, clear competitive edge for science is technological
improvement of scanning and imaging methods, such as PET and fMRI.
Today, the investigation on the self benefits from two of the most recent discoveries,
both of them claimed to be serendipitous, made in the highly interdisciplinary field of neuroscience:
the Mirror Neuron System (MNS) and the Default Mode Network (DMN).

MNS is crucial for the study of the self.
Its mechanisms first unify execution and perception of an action, with a set of neurons, ranging from premotor and supplementary motor areas to primary somatosensory and inferior parietal cortices, coding for a precise action and activated also in the observers’ motor system.
In fact, frontoparietal mirror neuron areas are crucial for the motor-simulation mechanisms, as well as cortical midline structures engaged in self-related information processing

Since 2001 it has been understood that when an individual is alerted though not actively engaged in cognitive tasks, spontaneously organized neural activity occurs in a unique constellation of brain regions called DMN and involving the posterior cingulate cortex, the precuneus, and regions of the ventromedial prefrontal cortex.In fact, activations and deactivations of DMN brain regions have often been related to self-specific processes in both healthy and diseased conditions

It is more and more evident that the boundaries between the perception of the “self” and the “other” should be pivotally found (also) around the CMS. Furthermore, being directly involved into both MNS and DMN, the self is at a crossroads between these two discoveries, and it is conceivable that in the near future such research on the self will be better valorized and further propelled through new insights that can directly derive from studying the MNS and DMN.

Tracing Knowledge

page : Footnotes to the book of Knowledge

This footnote in pdf file : Self through the mirror neurons – TK

###

ResearchBlogging.org Stefano Sandrone (2013).
Self through the mirror (neurons) and default mode network:
what neuroscientists found and what can still be found there
Frontiers in Human Neuroscience
DOI: 10.3389/fnhum.2013.00383

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