Higher-order sensorimotor circuit of the brain’s global network supports human consciousness


The neural correlates of consciousness, defined as the minimum neuronal mechanisms sufficient for any conscious percept, are usually subject to different interpretations depending on whether one uses measures of local or global brain activities. We argue that the local regions may support consciousness by serving as hubs within the brain’s global network. We adopt a unique functional magnetic resonance imaging resting state dataset that encompasses various conscious states, including non-rapid eye movement (NREM)-sleep, rapid eye movement (REM)-sleep, anesthesia, and brain injury patients. Using a graph-theoretical measure for detecting local hubs within the brain’s global network, we identify various higher-order sensory and motor regions as hubs with significantly reduced degree centrality during unconsciousness. Additionally, these regions form a sensorimotor circuit which correlates with levels of consciousness. Our findings suggest that integration of higher-order sensorimotor function may be a key mechanism of consciousness. This opens novel perspectives for therapeutic modulation of unconsciousness.