Image of the Week

Wiring That Analyzes the Past to Improve the Future

  • Published19 Nov 2019
  • Author Charlie Wood
  • Source BrainFacts/SfN

This neon yin-yang shaped formation cuts through the middle of two nerve fibers (green and purple) in the tissue of a mouse’s medial prefrontal cortex — a brain region that has captivated neuroscientists for its diverse bag of tricks. Some studies have found it helps recall memories from weeks ago, while others suggest that damaging the area causes rats to forget experiences from just minutes earlier. Other research has linked it to knowing when you’ve made a mistake and anticipating upcoming rewards or punishments.

Researchers have grouped these seemingly random responsibilities into one overarching purpose. The mPFC (as it’s called for short) might sort through our past experiences and help us make the best choices possible. That’s why it has its fingers in so many pies. It needs access to a lot of different information in order to recall how you felt the last time you got that food cart sushi, and then help you decide whether some tasty tuna is worth another upset stomach.

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Euston, D. R., Gruber, A. J., & Mcnaughton, B. L. (2012). The Role of Medial Prefrontal Cortex in Memory and Decision Making. Neuron, 76(6), 1057–1070. doi: 10.1016/j.neuron.2012.12.002