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Prefrontal cortical minicolumn: from executive control to disrupted cognitive processing

Ioan Opris, Manuel F. Casanova
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/brain/awt359 1863-1875 First published online: 15 February 2014


The prefrontal cortex of the primate brain has a modular architecture based on the aggregation of neurons in minicolumnar arrangements having afferent and efferent connections distributed across many brain regions to represent, select and/or maintain behavioural goals and executive commands. Prefrontal cortical microcircuits are assumed to play a key role in the perception to action cycle that integrates relevant information about environment, and then selects and enacts behavioural responses. Thus, neurons within the interlaminar microcircuits participate in various functional states requiring the integration of signals across cortical layers and the selection of executive variables. Recent research suggests that executive abilities emerge from cortico-cortical interactions between interlaminar prefrontal cortical microcircuits, whereas their disruption is involved in a broad spectrum of neurologic and psychiatric disorders such as autism, schizophrenia, Alzheimer’s and drug addiction. The focus of this review is on the structural, functional and pathological approaches involving cortical minicolumns. Based on recent technological progress it has been demonstrated that microstimulation of infragranular cortical layers with patterns of microcurrents derived from supragranular layers led to an increase in cognitive performance. This suggests that interlaminar prefrontal cortical microcircuits are playing a causal role in improving cognitive performance. An important reason for the new interest in cortical modularity comes from both the impressive progress in understanding anatomical, physiological and pathological facets of cortical microcircuits and the promise of neural prosthetics for patients with neurological and psychiatric disorders.

  • prefrontal cortex
  • interlaminar microcircuit
  • minicolumn
  • executive function
  • autism
  • Abbreviation
    multi-input multi-output
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