Ethan Willbrand

Examining the morphological development of a new tripartite landmark in human posterior cingulate cortex

The human cerebral cortex contains ridges (gyri) and indentations (sulci) that other species do not have especially in locations that are expanded in humans such as the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC). In PCC, there is confusion regarding sulcal definitions and nomenclature, which affects interpreting sulcal-functional correspondences. Recently, we reduced confusion by performing a systematic investigation of sulcal identification in adult human PCC (Willbrand et al., 2020). We discovered that a new shallow sulcus in PCC, the inframarginal sulcus (IFRMS), is a tripartite cortical landmark identifying a functional region involved in cognitive control and transitions in macroanatomical and microanatomical gradients. Here, I aim to build on this empirical foundation by addressing two main questions for my SURF project: Is the IFRMS identifiable in children? and Do morphological features of the IFRMS and surrounding PCC sulci develop from childhood to adulthood? As the IFRMS was only identified as a critical cortical landmark recently, these questions have never before been posed. Therefore, understanding and documenting the developmental trajectory of the IFRMS provides critical information to the field.

Message to Sponsor

I am incredibly thankful to the Rose Hills Foundation for providing me with the means to take part in this foundational experience. I am not the same student-researcher that started this program in May. Through my SURF experience, I developed independence, confidence, and self-assurance in myself as a growing scientist. Before the program, I was debating if research held any place in my future, but now I am certain that it does. My original path to apply to medical school after graduating is now amended. My new goal is to aim for an MD-PhD program after a gap year (or two) of continued research. In the upcoming academic year, I am excited to continue this project as an honors student and transform it into a senior thesis and, in the process, contribute to the ever-expanding field of neuroscience.
  • Major: Psychology, Molecular and Cell Biology
  • Sponsor: SURF Rose Hills Independent
  • Mentor: Kevin Weiner and Silvia Bunge