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ARTICLE NO. CC970319 A Possible Role for Cholinergic Neurons of the Basal Forebrain and Pontomesencephalon in Consciousness

By Nancy J. Woolf


Excitation at widely dispersed loci in the cerebral cortex may represent a neural correlate of consciousness. Accordingly, each unique combination of excited neurons would determine the content of a conscious moment. This conceptualization would be strengthened if we could identify what orchestrates the various combinations of excited neurons. In the present paper, cholinergic afferents to the cerebral cortex are hypothesized to enhance activity at specific cortical circuits and determine the content of a conscious moment by activating certain combinations of postsynaptic sites in select cortical modules. It is proposed that these selections are enabled by learning-related restructuring that simultaneously adjusts the cytoskeletal matrix at specific constellations of postsynaptic sites giving all a similar geometry. The underlying mechanism of conscious awareness hypothetically involves cholinergic mediation of linkages between microtubules and microtubule-associated protein-2 (MAP-2). The first reason for proposing this mechanism is that previous studies indicate cognitive-related changes in MAP-2 occur in cholinoceptive cells within discrete cortical modules. These cortical modules are found throughout the cerebral cortex, measure 1–2 mm2, and contain approximately 103 –104 cholinoceptive cells that are enriched wit

Year: 2013
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