Mapping the self in the brain's default mode network

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The brain's default mode network (DMN) has become closely associated with self-referential mental activity, particularly in the resting-state. While the DMN is important for such processes, it has functions other than self-reference, and self-referential processes are supported by regions outside of the DMN. In our study of 88 participants, we examined self-referential and resting-state processes to clarify the extent to which DMN activity was common and distinct between the conditions. Within areas commonly activated by self-reference and rest we sought to identify those that showed additional functional specialization for self-referential processes: these being not only activated by self-reference and rest but also showing increased activity in self-reference versus rest. We examined the neural network properties of the identified ‘core-self’ DMN regions—in medial prefrontal cortex (MPFC), posterior cingulate cortex (PCC), and inferior parietal lobule—using dynamic causal modeling. The optimal model identified was one in which self-related processes were driven via PCC activity and moderated by the regulatory influences of MPFC. We thus confirm the significance of these regions for self-related processes and extend our understanding of their functionally specialized roles.

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