Posterior cingulate, precuneal and retrosplenial cortices: cytology and components of the neural network correlates of consciousness.
Neuronal aggregates involved in conscious awareness are not evenly distributed throughout the CNS but comprise key components referred to as the neural network correlates of consciousness (NNCC). A critical node in this network is the posterior cingulate, precuneal, and retrosplenial cortices. The cytological and neurochemical composition of this region is reviewed in relation to the Brodmann map. This region has the highest level of cortical glucose metabolism and cytochrome c oxidase activity. Monkey studies suggest that the anterior thalamic projection likely drives retrosplenial and posterior cingulate cortex metabolism and that the midbrain projection to the anteroventral thalamic nucleus is a key coupling site between the brainstem system for arousal and cortical systems for cognitive processing and awareness. The pivotal role of the posterior cingulate, precuneal, and retrosplenial cortices in consciousness is demonstrated with posterior cingulate epilepsy cases, midcingulate lesions that de-afferent this region and are associated with unilateral sensory neglect, observations from stroke and vegetative state patients, alterations in blood flow during sleep, and the actions of general anesthetics. Since this region is critically involved in self reflection, it is not surprising that it is similarly a site for the NNCC. Interestingly, information processing during complex cognitive tasks and during aversive sensations such as pain induces efforts to terminate self reflection and result in decreased processing in posterior cingulate and precuneal cortices.