We describe an overarching organization of large-scale connectivity that situates the default-mode network at the opposite end of a spectrum from primary sensory and motor regions. This topography, based on the differentiation of connectivity patterns, is also embedded in the spatial distance along the cortical surface between these respective systems. In addition, this connectivity gradient accounts for the respective positions of canonical networks and captures a functional spectrum from perception and action to more abstract cognitive functions. These results suggest that the default-mode network consists of regions at the top of a representational hierarchy that describe the current cognitive landscape in the most abstract terms.
Understanding how the structure of cognition arises from the topographical organization of the cortex is a primary goal in neuroscience. Previous work has described local functional gradients extending from perceptual and motor regions to cortical areas representing more abstract functions, but an overarching framework for the association between structure and function is still lacking. Here, we show that the principal gradient revealed by the decomposition of connectivity data in humans and the macaque monkey is anchored by, at one end, regions serving primary sensory/motor functions and at the other end, transmodal regions that, in humans, are known as the default-mode network (DMN). These DMN regions exhibit the greatest geodesic distance along the cortical surface—and are precisely equidistant—from primary sensory/motor morphological landmarks. The principal gradient also provides an organizing spatial framework for multiple large-scale networks and characterizes a spectrum from unimodal to heteromodal activity in a functional metaanalysis. Together, these observations provide a characterization of the topographical organization of cortex and indicate that the role of the DMN in cognition might arise from its position at one extreme of a hierarchy, allowing it to process transmodal information that is unrelated to immediate sensory input.