Orbitofrontal cortex: parts, functions and features

Human beings benefit from a large number of complex cognitive skills which enable them to adapt to a large extent to the environment in which they find themselves and to the times in which they live. He is able to plan, prepare for action, establish strategies or inhibit his own behavior. All this is very useful both in nature and in immersion in society, for example in the exchange or communication between different people and in different contexts.

It is not the same, for example, to interact with another person in the context of a conflict or misfortune as at a nightclub party, to set an example, and to be able to distinguish him and manage his behavior at his convenience. in each situation requires complex processes. Processes which do not appear out of nowhere, but which are due to the action of different brain nuclei. One of the most important in this regard and which is also essential in explaining a large part of our personality is the orbitofrontal cortex, which this article discusses.

    Orbitofrontal cortex: description and location

    This is called an orbitofrontal cortex a region of the cerebral cortex that it is part of the prefrontal cortex and that it is of great importance in the regulation of social conduct, decision making and behavior inhibition. This cortex is located in the frontal lobe, being found in both cerebral hemispheres and being located approximately around the eye sockets (which is also the reason for its name).

    The importance of this area is great, being involved in many functions and even in establishing what we call personality. This is due in addition to its own performance which we are dealing with with a part of the brain strongly connected to a large number of brain regions. Among its many connections are those that go to the limbic system (especially the amygdala), the insula, the motor cortex, the thalamus, the hypothalamus or the hippocampus, the entorhinal cortex and the most sensory areas. We are also dealing with one of the areas of the brain that takes the longest to develop, not completing its training until adulthood.

    This region of the brain is also of historical significance as it was the area that was injured in the first known and documented case of a subject with brain damage to the front of the brain who lived to explain it: Phineas Gage . This young man, to whom an iron bar pierced its frontal orbit while handling explosives, Managed to survive the injury, but later she would begin to show severe disorders that would complicate their existence (hostility and aggressiveness, personality changes, inability to plan …) to the point of losing everything. Studying this case would allow us to begin to visualize and study the importance and functions of the prefrontal region of this brain region.

      Main functions of this brain region

      We have already commented that the orbitofrontal cortex is of great importance to humans, being in fact fundamental for allow human beings to adapt to their natural and social environment as well as to carry out complex mental actions and plans for the future. Its brain connections are numerous, being involved in many processes. Some of the best known and explored are as follows.

      1. Regulation of social behavior

      One of the best-known functions of the orbitofrontal cortex, and the one we mentioned in the introduction, is to help regulate social behavior. That is, thanks to the orbitofrontal cortex, we are able to adjust our actions and words to the situations, people and types of interactions that we have at the present time. too much helps promote social standards.

      2. Behavioral inhibition

      Another of the key functions in which the orbitrofrontal cortex is essential is the inhibition of behavior. In other words, thanks to this region of the brain (among others), we are able to not do the first thing that comes to mind, or to change our behavior according to the circumstances.

      3. Involvement in the personality

      It cannot be said that the personality resides only in the prefrontal cortex, but the truth is that the alteration of this brain region has been observed it can have serious repercussions on a person’s way of beingTo be able to totally vary the way you behave and react to stimuli.

      4. Managing emotions and aggression

      Something related in part to the above aspects and largely derived from its connections to the limbic system is the involvement of the orbitofrontal cortex in emotional management, particularly with regard to the control of defensive and aggressive responses. It is therefore an area that allows us to be vigilant in the face of threatening stimuli.

      5. Rewards-punishments and learning systems

      Studies in relation to the orbitofrontal cortex have shown that this region of the prefrontal, in particular with regard to its medial areas, is related to the sensitivity and learning the relationships between behavior and reinforcement. Its more lateral zones do the same with the behavior-punishment relationship. In addition to that, it allows the existence of a sensitivity towards one or the other, which is linked to our future behavioral choices.

        6. Integration of information on sensory experience

        Although it was already suspected that there was an involvement of the orbitofrontal cortex in it, recent research has shown that this cortex is activated and allows the integration of current sensory information. with previously accumulated information from previous moments.

        7. Analysis of decision making

        Directly related to the above, it has been identified that the orbitofrontal cortex has great involvement in decision making, considering the integration of the information from the previous point and its analysis. this this allows us to anticipate the choice of behavioral response that we are going to make, Although this may vary depending on new experiences.

        8. Motivation and planning

        Another area in which the involvement of the orbitofrontal cortex has been observed is in the ability to motivate yourself, Especially when it comes to taking initiatives or maintaining behavior. It also influences behavior planning.

        What problems can result from your injury?

        Considering some of the many functions of this brain region and their importance in our daily lives, it’s easy to imagine the kind of difficulties that can lead to injury.

        It is common for damage to the orbitofrontal cortex to result in emergence of aggressive behavior, limitations in the ability to bond with others and have empathy, Social disengagement and disobedience to social norms, apathy, inability to generate, initiate or maintain plans, and a high level of disinhibition which includes difficulty controlling their impulses (including addictions, sexual activity, eating or aggression) and which can lead to generate Legal problem. In fact, there is a specific syndrome that refers to the appearance of these symptoms by a brain injury: the orbitofrontal syndrome.

        The lesions themselves can come from different types of injuries, such as traumatic brain injury, lacerations (like Phineas Gage), the presence of brain tumors, infections, or strokes.

        Bibliographical references:

        • Bechara, A., Damasio, H, Damasio, AR (2000). Emotion, decision making and the orbitofrontal cortex. Cereb. Cortex, 10: 295-307.
        • Kandel, ER; Schwartz, JH; Jessell, TM (2001). Principles of neuroscience. Madrid: McGraw Hill.
        • Nogueira, R., Abolafia, JM, Drugowitsch, J., Balaguer-Ballester, E., Sánchez-Vives, MV and Moreno-Bote, R. (2017). The lateral orbitofrontal cortex anticipates the election and integrates itself beforehand with current information. Nature Communications, 8.

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