Brain Structure and Function

, Volume 218, Issue 1, pp 1–20 | Cite as

Functional anatomy of cortical areas characterized by Von Economo neurons

  • Franco Cauda
  • Diana M. E. Torta
  • Katiuscia Sacco
  • Federico D’Agata
  • Elisabetta Geda
  • Sergio Duca
  • Giuliano Geminiani
  • Alessandro Vercelli


Von Economo’s neurons (VENs) are large, bipolar or corkscrew-shaped neurons located in layers III and V of the frontoinsular and the anterior cingulate cortices. VENs are reported to be altered in pathologies such as frontotemporal dementia and autism, in which the individual’s self control is seriously compromised. To investigate the role of VENs in the active human brain, we have explored the functional connectivity of brain areas containing VENs by analyzing resting state functional connectivity (rsFC) in 20 healthy volunteers. Our results show that cortical areas containing VENs form a network of frontoparietal functional connectivity. With the use of fuzzy clustering techniques, we find that this network comprises four sub-networks: the first network cluster resembles a “saliency detection” attentional network, which includes superior frontal cortex (Brodmann’s Area, BA 10), inferior parietal lobe, anterior insula, and dorsal anterior cingulate cortex; the second cluster, part of a “sensory-motor network”, comprises the superior temporal, precentral and postcentral areas; the third cluster consists of frontal ventromedial and ventrodorsal areas constituted by parts of the “anterior default mode network”; and the fourth cluster encompasses dorsal anterior cingulate cortex, dorsomedial prefrontal, and superior frontal (BA 10) areas, resembling the anterior part of the “dorsal attentional network”. Thus, the network that emerges from analyzing functional connectivity among areas that are known to contain VENs is primarily involved in functions of saliency detection and self-regulation. In addition, parts of this network constitute sub-networks that partially overlap with the default mode, the sensory-motor and the dorsal attentional networks.


Von Economo neurons Resting state Functional connectivity Clustering FMRI 



Von Economo’s neurons


Frontoinsular cortex


Anterior cingulate cortex


Activating-transcription factor 3


Interleukin 4 receptor


Neuromedin B


Diffusion tensor imaging


Resting state functional connectivity


Blood oxygen level-dependent


Echoplanar sequences


Repetition time


Field of view


Anterior-posterior commissure


Fast field echo sequence


General linear model


Fuzzy-mean clustering technique



This research was supported by the RegionePiemonte, bandoScienzeUmane e Sociali 2008, L.R. n. 4/2006.

Supplementary material

429_2012_382_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (1.2 mb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 1272 kb)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  • Franco Cauda
    • 1
    • 2
  • Diana M. E. Torta
    • 2
  • Katiuscia Sacco
    • 1
    • 2
  • Federico D’Agata
    • 1
    • 2
  • Elisabetta Geda
    • 1
    • 2
  • Sergio Duca
    • 1
    • 2
  • Giuliano Geminiani
    • 1
    • 2
  • Alessandro Vercelli
    • 3
  1. 1.CCS fMRIKoelliker HospitalTurinItaly
  2. 2.Department of PsychologyUniversity of TurinTurinItaly
  3. 3.Department of Anatomy, Pharmacology and Forensic Medicine, Neuroscience Institute of the Cavalieri OttolenghiUniversity of TurinOrbassanoItaly

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