Three inferior prefrontal regions of the brain found receptive to somatosensory stimuli

(November 19, 2002) - Bethesda, MD -- We know quite a bit about the orbitofrontal cortex (OFC). It is part of the frontal lobe that lies superior to the orbit of the eyes. This area of the brain plays an important role in emotional behavior, receives direct inputs from the dorsomedial thalamus, temporal cortex, ventral tegmental area, olfactory system, and the amygdala (illustration). Its outputs go to several brain regions, including the cingulate cortex, hippocampal formation, temporal cortex, lateral hypothalamus, and amygdala. Finally, it communicates with other regions of the frontal cortex. Thus its inputs provide it with information about what is happening in the environment and what plans are being made by the rest of the frontal lobes. Its outputs permit it to affect a variety of behaviors and physiological responses, including emotional responses organized by the amygdala.

However, there is still much that we do not know about this important part of the brain. Research has shown that three inferior prefrontal regions of the monkey's brain (OFC, ventral area of the principal sulcus, and the anterior frontal operculum) all receive somatosensory stimuli (indirect sensations to the body as opposed to specific stimuli such as light). Now a groundbreaking research effort has incorporated two studies, combining positron emission tomography with neutral tactile (touch) stimulation to determine if these same regions in the human brain respond accordingly.

The authors of "Somatosensory Processing in the Human Inferior Prefrontal Cortex" are Matthew C. Hagen and Jose V. Pardo, both from the Veterans Affairs Medical Center and the University of Minnesota Medical School, Minneapolis, MN; and David H. Zald and Tricia A. Thornton, both from Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN. Their findings are published in the Journal of Neurophysiology, a publication of the American Physiological Society (APS).

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Contact: Donna Krupa
American Physiological Society

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