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Open Access Highly Accessed Open Badges Research article

Internal representation of hierarchical sequences involves the default network

Baxter P Rogers123*, Suzanne N Avery4 and Stephan Heckers4

Author Affiliations

1 Institute of Imaging Science, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN, USA

2 Department of Radiology and Radiological Sciences, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN, USA

3 Department of Biomedical Engineering, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN, USA

4 Department of Psychiatry, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN, USA

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BMC Neuroscience 2010, 11:54  doi:10.1186/1471-2202-11-54

Published: 27 April 2010



The default network is a set of brain regions that exhibit a reduction in BOLD response during attention-demanding cognitive tasks, and distinctive patterns of functional connectivity that typically include anti-correlations with a fronto-parietal network involved in attention, working memory, and executive control. The function of the default network regions has been attributed to introspection, self-awareness, and theory of mind judgments, and some of its regions are involved in episodic memory processes.


Using the method of psycho-physiological interactions, we studied the functional connectivity of several regions in a fronto-parietal network involved in a paired image discrimination task involving transitive inference. Some image pairs were derived from an implicit underlying sequence A>B>C>D>E, and some were independent (F>G, H>J, etc). Functional connectivity between the fronto-parietal regions and the default network regions depended on the presence of the underlying sequence relating the images. When subjects viewed learned and novel pairs from the sequence, connectivity between these two networks was higher than when subjects viewed learned and novel pairs from the independent sets.


These results suggest that default network regions were involved in maintaining the internal model that subserved discrimination of image pairs derived from the implicit sequence, and contributed to introspective access of an internal sequence model built during training. The default network may not be a unified entity with a specific function, but rather may interact with other functional networks in task-dependent ways.