A Precuneal Causal Loop Mediates External and Internal Information Integration in the Human Brain.


Human brains interpret external stimuli based on internal representations. One untested hypothesis is that the default-mode network (DMN), widely considered responsible for internally oriented cognition, can decode external information. Here, we posit that the unique structural and functional fingerprint of the precuneus (PCu) supports a prominent role for the posterior part of the DMN in this process. By analyzing the imaging data of 100 participants performing two attention-demanding tasks, we found that the PCu is functionally divided into dorsal and ventral subdivisions. We then conducted a comprehensive examination of their connectivity profiles and found that at rest, both the ventral PCu (vPCu) and dorsal PCu (dPCu) are mainly connected with the DMN but also are differentially connected with internally oriented networks (IoN) and externally oriented networks (EoN). During tasks, the double associations between the v/dPCu and the IoN/EoN are correlated with task performance and can switch depending on cognitive demand. Furthermore, dynamic causal modeling (DCM) revealed that the strength and direction of the effective connectivity (EC) between v/dPCu is modulated by task difficulty in a manner potentially dictated by the balance of internal versus external cognitive demands. Our study provides evidence that the posterior medial part of the DMN may drive interactions between large-scale networks, potentially allowing access to stored representations for moment-to-moment interpretation of an ever-changing environment.SIGNIFICANCE STATEMENT The default-mode network (DMN) is widely known for its association with internalized thinking processes, e.g., spontaneous thoughts, which is the most interesting but least understood component in human consciousness. The precuneus (PCu), a posteromedial DMN hub, is thought to play a role in this, but a mechanistic explanation has not yet been established. In this study we found that the associations between ventral PCu (vPCu)/dorsal PCu (dPCu) subdivisions and internally oriented network (IoN)/externally oriented network (EoN) are flexibly modulated by cognitive demand and correlate with task performance. We further propose that the recurrent causal connectivity between the ventral and dorsal PCu supports conscious processing by constantly interpreting external information based on an internal model, meanwhile updating the internal model with the incoming information.