Maurizio Corbetta

Departments of Radiology, Neurology, Anatomy & Neurobiology

Washington University School of Medicine

Functional Significance of Spontaneous Brain Activity

The brain is not a passive sensory-motor analyzer driven by environmental stimuli, but actively maintains ongoing representations that may be involved in the coding of expected sensory stimuli, prospective motor responses, and prior experience. Spontaneous cortical activity has been proposed to play an important part in maintaining these ongoing, internal representations, although its functional role is not well understood. I will report on a series of experiments indicating that ongoing connectivity between different cortical regions even at rest relates to behavior. In the first experiment, we demonstrate that visual perceptual learning, an example of adult neural plasticity, modifies the resting covariance structure of spontaneous activity between networks engaged by the task. Critically, these changes correlated with the degree of perceptual learning. In the second experiment, we show that abnormal coherence between the two hemispheres is partially responsible for deficits of attention and motor behavior in individuals with stroke. These results indicate that ongoing functional connectivity supports the consolidation of previous experience, and may provide a functional scaffolding for task-driven activity.




Corbetta M, Patel G, Shulman GL (2008) The reorienting system of the human brain: from environment to theory of mind. Neuron 58:306-24


Lewis CM, Baldassarre A, Committeri G, Romani GL, Corbetta M (2009) Learning sculpts the spontaneous activity of the resting human brain. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 106:17558-63