Effective connectivity gateways to the Theory of Mind network in processing communicative intention

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Abstract

An Intention Processing Network (IPN), involving the medial prefrontal cortex, precuneus, bilateral posterior superior temporal sulcus, and temporoparietal junctions, plays a fundamental role in comprehending intentions underlying action goals. In a previous fMRI study, we showed that, depending on the linguistic or extralinguistic (gestural) modality used to convey the intention, the IPN is complemented by activation of additional brain areas, reflecting distinct modality-specific input gateways to the IPN. These areas involve, for the linguistic modality, the left inferior frontal gyrus (LIFG), and for the extralinguistic modality, the right inferior frontal gyrus (RIFG). Here, we tested the modality-specific gateway hypothesis, by using DCM to measure inter-regional functional integration dynamics between the IPN and LIFG/RIFG gateways. We found strong evidence of a well-defined effective connectivity architecture mediating the functional integration between the IPN and the inferior frontal cortices. The connectivity dynamics indicate a modality-specific propagation of stimulus information from LIFG to IPN for the linguistic modality, and from RIFG to IPN for the extralinguistic modality. Thus, we suggest a functional model in which the modality-specific gateways mediate the structural and semantic decoding of the stimuli, and allow for the modality-specific communicative information to be integrated in Theory of Mind inferences elaborated through the IPN.

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