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What Is the Cingulate Cortex?

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  • Written By: S. Berger
  • Edited By: Shereen Skola
  • Last Modified Date: 09 November 2016
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    Conjecture Corporation
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The largest area of the brain, called the cerebrum, is comprised of a number of sections called lobes. Located in the center of the cerebrum and wrapping around the central bundle of nerves known as the corpus callosum is a lobe called the cingulate cortex. Its looped shape around the corpus callosum contributed to its name, since the word "cingulate" means "belt" in Latin. This region of the brain is part of the limbic system, which plays a part in learning, memory, and emotion.

Several smaller subregions can be found within the cingulate cortex, distinguished both by cell type and unique function. The frontal portion of this region, the anterior cingulate cortex, receives information from the thalamus, a routing center for sensory data. It sends nerve connections, known as axons, to regions involved in language and emotion. One function of this region seems to be in emotional regulation, because postmortem studies have shown that individuals with depression and other mood disorders tend to have a lack of support cells in this region.

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Another role performed by the anterior region seems to be in decision-making and error detection tasks. Imaging studies have shown that some cells in this area respond to detecting rewards from certain behaviors, and noticing when the magnitude of this reward changes. Damage to these areas, as seen in other research, decreases the ability to incorporate past rewards and choices into the decision of whether or not to a perform a task. These results show that the anterior cingulate cortex also seems to recruit memories of previous rewards into decision-making processes.

Portions of the cingulate cortex show differences between the genders. Usually, healthy females of several species show regions of the rostral anterior cingulate gyrus that is greater in size. In individuals with schizophrenia, this volume difference disappears, as the area is smaller in schizophrenic individuals of both genders.

Other studies involving patients with schizophrenia demonstrated further structural differences involving the cingulate cortex. Both the posterior and anterior regions of this region tended to be smaller in schizophrenic people, as well as their immediate relatives, showing that there was a genetic component to the size difference. The smaller the size of the region, generally, the lower the rate of social functioning, and the more symptoms that were shown by the individual. These differences in size could possibly explain some of the emotional deficits shown among schizophrenic people.

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