Ikerbasque Professor Dr. Mazahir T. Hasan at the Achucarro Basque Center for Neuroscience and his team and Professor Dr. José M. Delgado García and researchers at the Pablo de Olavide University from Seville have demonstrated for the first time the functional activity of this brain center during learning and memory tests in behaving laboratory animals.
In his well-known book "The Astonishing Hypothesis", as well as in specialized papers, a Nobel Prize winning scientist, Professor Francis Crick, who discovered the structure of DNA, proposed that higher mental functions could be related to the activity of the nucleus of the claustrum. The claustrum is a flat and elongated structure that extends throughout most of the brain and is widely interconnected with many other brain structures. Although until now it was generally assumed that the claustrum functions as an integrator of sensorimotor and cognitive functions, it's complicated anatomical location and structure had made it impossible to detect the activity of its neurons during specific tests of learning and memory.
These technical problems have been solved by researchers from the Pablo de Olavide University Seville Neuroscience Division (led by Prof. Dr. José M. Delgado García) and by the Ikerbasque Prof. Dr. Mazahir T. Hasan at the Achucarro Basque Center for Neuroscience. In a strong collaboration, the two laboratories applied in vivo electrophysiology and advanced genetic manipulation to show that the claustrum actively participates in the cognitive processes accompanying the acquisition of new motor skills, but not in the purely biomechanical aspects of them. The study just published as an article in Cerebral Cortex 2020 (DOI: 10.1093/cercor/bhaa225) has made it possible to conclude that the claustrum plays an important role in brain cognitive functions, especially in aspects related to the novelty, relevance, and importance of the sensory stimuli present in our physical and social environments. At the same time, the study suggests that other brain structures, apart from the claustrum, intervene in cognitive processes in a coordinated way.
This pioneering experiment opens the way for further to re-visit the role of claustrum in “consciousness” related to brain activities underlying mental and cognitive processes.