Study reveals causal role of a brain region

A recent study sheds light on how activity in the anterior cingulate cortex influences decision-making.

It suggests that, if this part of the brain does not function properly, it could prevent an individual from being able to switch to a better option, even when it becomes available.

Experts believe that this type of brain dysfunction could be the reason why people with certain psychiatric illnesses remain trapped in unhelpful habits.

Fouragnan and colleagues investigated (https://doi.org/10.1038/s41593-019-0375-6) using MRI scans of the monkeys' brains and they observed that activity in the cingulate cortex "reflected whether the internal value representations would be translated into actual behavioral change."

They showed that, by stimulating the brain region with noninvasive, focused, low-intensity ultrasound, the anterior cingulate cortex was of "causal importance" to this process. Stimulating the brain in this way disrupted the monkeys' counterfactual thinking.

Fouragnan concludes that brain stimulation using noninvasive, focused, low-intensity ultrasound "has the potential to improve the lives of millions of patients with mental health conditions by stimulating brain tissues with millimeter accuracy."

Some brain stimulation techniques are already helping people with Parkinson's disease and depression, but because they are nonsurgical, the methods do not have the level of accuracy achieved in this study.