Probing cortical and sub-cortical contributions to instruction-based learning: Regional specialisation and global network dynamics.


Computational, Cognitive and Clinical Neuroscience Laboratory, Department of Medicine, Imperial College London, London W12 0NN, UK. Electronic address: [Email]


Diverse cortical networks and striatal brain regions are implicated in instruction-based learning (IBL); however, their distinct contributions remain unclear. We use a modified fMRI paradigm to test two hypotheses regarding the brain mechanisms that underlie IBL. One hypothesis proposes that anterior caudate and frontoparietal regions transiently co-activate when new rules are being bound in working memory. The other proposes that they mediate the application of the rules at different stages of the consolidation process. In accordance with the former hypothesis, we report strong activation peaks within and increased connectivity between anterior caudate and frontoparietal regions when rule-instruction slides are presented. However, similar effects occur throughout a broader set of cortical and sub-cortical regions, indicating a metabolically costly reconfiguration of the global brain state. The distinct functional roles of cingulo-opercular, frontoparietal and default-mode networks are apparent from their activation throughout, early and late in the practice phase respectively. Furthermore, there is tentative evidence of a peak in anterior caudate activity mid-way through the practice stage. These results demonstrate how performance of the same simple task involves a steadily shifting balance of brain systems as learning progresses. They also highlight the importance of distinguishing between regional specialisation and global dynamics when studying the network mechanisms that underlie cognition and learning.

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