Recent neuroimaging studies have shown that several brain regions--namely, the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC), ventral medial prefrontal cortex (vmPFC), and the bilateral angular gyrus--are more active during resting states than during cognitive tasks (i.e., default mode network). Although there is evidence showing that the default mode network is associated with unconscious state, it is unclear whether this network is associated with unconscious processing when normal human subjects perform tasks without awareness. We manipulated the level of conscious processing in normal subjects by asking them to perform an implicit and an explicit memory task, and analyzed signal changes in the default mode network for the stimuli versus baseline in both tasks. The functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) analysis showed that the level of activation in regions within this network during the implicit task was not significantly different from that during the baseline, except in the left angular gyrus and the insula. There was strong deactivation for the explicit task when compared with the implicit task in the default mode regions, except in the left angular gyrus and the left middle temporal gyrus. These data suggest that the activity in the default network is sustained and less disrupted when an implicit memory task is performed, but is suspended when explicit retrieval is required. These results provide evidence that the default mode network is associated with unconscious processing when human subjects perform an implicit memory task.
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