Representation, inference, and transcendent encoding in neurocognitive networks of the human brain

Marsel Mesulam*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

117 Scopus citations


The anatomical basis of conscious experience has traditionally been linked to sensory-fugal (inward) pathways that convey sensory information to progressively "higher" association cortices. Current thinking is emphasizing the importance of sensory-petal pathways that run in the opposite (outward) direction. According to emerging views, many aspects of cognition may represent an iterative neural dialogue between sensory-fugal connections, which reflect the physical nature of ambient events, and sensory-petal connections, which infer the nature of the stimulus based on empirical accounts of past experience. These reciprocal pathways, embedded within the internally generated oscillations of the brain, are further modulated by top-down projections from high-order association cortices, most prominently located in prefrontal cortex. This set of top-down projections has the capacity to transcend experience-based representations and to insert internally generated priorities into the interpretation of ongoing events. The characteristically human capacity for resisting stimulus-bound responses and favoring novel interpretations may be linked to the influence of these top-down projections. The reciprocal sensory-processing pathways and their top-down modulations collectively define the conscious interpretation of experience.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)367-378
Number of pages12
JournalAnnals of neurology
Issue number4
StatePublished - Oct 2008

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Clinical Neurology
  • Neurology


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