Competitive and cooperative dynamics of large-scale brain functional networks supporting recollection

Fornito, A., Harrison, B.J., Zalesky, A., & Simons, J.S. (2012). Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences USA, 109, 12788-12793.

Analyses of functional interactions between large-scale brain networks have identified two broad systems that operate in apparent competition or antagonism with each other. One system, termed the default mode network (DMN), is thought to support internally oriented processing. The other system acts as a generic external attention system (EAS) and mediates attention to exogenous stimuli. Reports that the DMN and EAS show anticorrelated activity across a range of experimental paradigms suggest that competition between these systems supports adaptive behavior. Here, we used functional MRI to characterize functional interactions between the DMN and different EAS components during performance of a recollection task known to coactivate regions of both networks. Using methods to isolate task-related, context-dependent changes in functional connectivity between these systems, we show that increased cooperation between the DMN and a specific right-lateralized frontoparietal component of the EAS is associated with more rapid memory recollection. We also show that these cooperative dynamics are facilitated by a dynamic reconfiguration of the functional architecture of the DMN into core and transitional modules, with the latter serving to enhance integration with frontoparietal regions. In particular, the right posterior cingulate cortex may act as a critical information-processing hub that provokes these context-dependent reconfigurations from an intrinsic or default state of antagonism. Our findings highlight the dynamic, context-dependent nature of large-scale brain dynamics and shed light on their contribution to individual differences in behavior.