Brainmap: Prefrontal pathways control attention via multiple pathways

Event Details

Helen Barbas, PhD
Professor, Department of Health Sciences, Boston University Sargent College Programs in Human Physiology
Professor, Department of Anatomy & Neurobiology, Boston University School of Medicine
Lecturer in Neurology, Harvard Medical School


Pathways from cortical and subcortical structures give the specialized sectors of the prefrontal cortex a panoramic view of the sensory environment and the internal milieu of motives and drives. The prefrontal cortex also receives privileged information from the output of the basal ganglia and cerebellum, and along with the amygdala, innervates widely the inhibitory thalamic reticular nucleus which gates the entire thalamo-cortical system. Specialized pathways from the anterior cingulate cortex, to inhibitory neurons in lateral prefrontal cortex, and from the posterior orbitofrontal cortex to the inhibitory intercalated masses of the amygdala are poised to control attention to salient stimuli and eliminate distracters. Connections are strongly related to the systematic structural variation of the cortex that can be traced to development. The patterns of connections of the specialized prefrontal sectors suggest the sequence of information processing for cognition, emotion and executive control, and point to nodes of vulnerability in psychiatric and neurologic diseases.

About the Speaker:

Helen Barbas studied neuroscience at McGill University (Ph.D) and at Harvard Neurological Unit, Beth Israel Hospital (postdoctoral), before moving to Boston University and School of Medicine, where she is now Professor. She established and directs the Neural Systems Laboratory at Boston University, funded by grants from the National Institutes of Health (NINDS and NIMH), the National Science Foundation, and Autism Speaks. Her research focuses on the prefrontal cortex and the organization and synaptology of prefrontal pathways associated with cognitive, mnemonic and emotional processes in primates. Research focuses on the interaction of pathways with both excitatory and inhibitory neurons in the cortex and subcortical structures. Quantitative data on connections are used to uncover principles that underlie their strength, presence, absence and laminar pattern through computational analyses and modeling. Some publications from the laboratory are found at: