Does the fronto-parietal cognitive control network (FPN) function as an “immune system of the mind?” This hypothesis was developed based on work in our lab (Cole, Repovš, & Anticevic, 2014) and others, suggesting that the FPN consists of flexible hubs.
Flexible hubs are regions in the brain that are especially well connected to other systems in the brain that can rapidly modify those functional connections based on current goals.
Based on this information and evidence suggesting that FPN connections are altered in a number of mental disorders we hypothesized that the FPN could serve to regulate dysfunctional communication between other brain systems that may occur in mental disorders. In a sense, the FPN could be correcting problems with brain communication that occur in mental disorders. This would help bring the brain back to a more healthy state and decrease mental health symptoms.
One of the important aspects of the flexible hub nature of the FPN is that it is well connected to other areas of the brain. This high degree of connectivity would allow the FPN to be able to influence a large number of other brain networks and adjust problems similar to how a thermostat adjusts the temperature of your home.
We recently published an article in Network Neuroscience that tested the idea that the flexible hub properties of the FPN may serve a protective role against mental health symptoms.
All people vary in their level of mental health. Even people who have not been diagnosed with a disorder can show different degrees of symptoms. Exploring these differences may help us better understand mental illness and problems that don’t reach the criteria for a disorder but may still negatively impact peoples’ quality of life. We predicted that individuals with greater connectivity between the FPN and other brain networks would report fewer mental health symptoms. We tested this hypothesis by assessing brain connectivity with resting-state fMRI in 96 young adults who had not been diagnosed with a mental health disorder. We also had participants complete a questionnaire that assessed how frequently they experienced different symptoms related to depression.
Briefly, we found that lateral prefrontal portions of the FPN are well connected to other brain systems. We also found that individuals with a better-connected FPN experienced depression symptoms less frequently. These findings suggest that the organization of global brain networks is important for maintaining mental health, even in individuals who have not been diagnosed with a mental disorder. This supports the hypothesis that the FPN may play a role in regulating mental health symptoms as they arise through goal-directed feedback.
You can find the full report at Network Neuroscience, here.