In a nutshell: A comprehensive new look at the precuneus in macaques reveals precisely where this less-studied brain region is and what it does.

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Many advanced cognitive functions involve a part of the brain called the precuneus. Hidden between the two hemispheres, it is highly interconnected with other parts of the brain.

The largest part of the precuneus – the PGm – has been linked to some types of memory, movement, and navigation. However, it wasn’t clear whether all or only part of the PGm was involved in these functions. This is because researchers disagreed on the extent of the PGm and whether it has subdivisions that correspond to different roles.

The Brain Function CoE’s Marcello Rosa and colleagues at Monash University used high-resolution techniques to provide a comprehensive picture of the precuneus in macaque monkeys for the first time.

Because their method was more sensitive than previous studies, the team was able to clarify the anatomical boundaries of areas within the precuneus. They found two distinct regions, each with its own pattern of connectivity and functions.

Examining which parts of the brain formed connections to these regions enabled the team to link specific brain functions to each subdivision. The PGm, which is the larger of the two, was found to be a critical link between memory and spatial vision. These abilities allow us to use vision to locate ourselves in the environment, making it possible not only to remember where you parked your car, but also to find it again.

Next steps:
Now that the team knows the limits of the PGm and which parts of the brain connect to it, they can investigate how each area contributes to spatial memory and navigation. In the future, such information could be used to design robots that can learn how to navigate as well as we do.

Passarelli, L., Rosa, M.G., Bakola, S., Gamberini, M., Worthy, K.H., Fattori, P., & Galletti, C. (2017). Uniformity and diversity of cortical projections to precuneate areas in the macaque monkey: What defines area PGm? Cerebral Cortex, doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhx067

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