Cortical networks for working memory and executive functions sustain the conscious resting state in man.
The cortical anatomy of the conscious resting state (REST) was investigated using a meta-analysis of nine positron emission tomography (PET) activation protocols that dealt with different cognitive tasks but shared REST as a common control state. During REST, subjects were in darkness and silence, and were instructed to relax, refrain from moving, and avoid systematic thoughts. Each protocol contrasted REST to a different cognitive task consisting either of language, mental imagery, mental calculation, reasoning, finger movement, or spatial working memory, using either auditory, visual or no stimulus delivery, and requiring either vocal, motor or no output. A total of 63 subjects and 370 spatially normalized PET scans were entered in the meta-analysis. Conjunction analysis revealed a network of brain areas jointly activated during conscious REST as compared to the nine cognitive tasks, including the bilateral angular gyrus, the left anterior precuneus and posterior cingulate cortex, the left medial frontal and anterior cingulate cortex, the left superior and medial frontal sulcus, and the left inferior frontal cortex. These results suggest that brain activity during conscious REST is sustained by a large scale network of heteromodal associative parietal and frontal cortical areas, that can be further hierarchically organized in an episodic working memory parieto-frontal network, driven in part by emotions, working under the supervision of an executive left prefrontal network.