Functionality of arousal-regulating brain circuitry at rest predicts human cognitive abilities

Ella Podvalny, Ruben Sanchez-Romero, Michael W. Cole

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Arousal state is regulated by subcortical neuromodulatory nuclei, such as locus coeruleus, which send wide-reaching projections to cortex. Whether higher-order cortical regions have the capacity to recruit neuromodulatory systems to aid cognition is unclear. Here, we hypothesized that select cortical regions activate the arousal system, which, in turn, modulates large-scale brain activity, creating a functional circuit predicting cognitive ability. We utilized the Human Connectome Project 7T functional magnetic resonance imaging dataset (n = 149), acquired at rest with simultaneous eye tracking, along with extensive cognitive assessment for each subject. First, we discovered select frontoparietal cortical regions that drive large-scale spontaneous brain activity specifically via engaging the arousal system. Second, we show that the functionality of the arousal circuit driven by bilateral posterior cingulate cortex (associated with the default mode network) predicts subjects’ cognitive abilities. This suggests that a cortical region that is typically associated with self-referential processing supports cognition by regulating the arousal system.

Original languageEnglish
Article numberbhae192
JournalCerebral Cortex
Issue number5
StatePublished - 2 May 2024
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© The Author(s) 2024. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved.


  • arousal
  • cognition
  • default mode network
  • posterior cingulate cortex
  • spontaneous brain activity


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