, Volume 31, Issue 3-5, pp 373-385

Frontal lobe and cognitive development

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Abstract

In phylogeny as in ontogeny, the association cortex of the frontal lobe, also known as the prefrontal cortex, is a late-developing region of the neocortex. It is also one of the cortical regions to undergo the greatest expansion in the course of both evolution and individual maturation. In the human adult, the prefrontal cortex constitutes as much as nearly one-third of the totality of the neocortex. The protracted, relatively large, development of the prefrontal cortex is manifest in gross morphology as well as fine structure. In the developing individual, its late maturation is made most apparent by the late myelination of its axonal connections. This and other indices of morphological development of the prefrontal cortex correlate with the development of cognitive functions that neuropsychological studies in animals and humans have ascribed to this cortex. In broad outline, the ventromedial areas of the prefrontal cortex, which with respect to otherprefrontal areas develop relatively early, are involved in the expression and control of emotional and instinctual behaviors. On the other hand, the late maturing areas of the lateral prefrontal convexity are principally involved in higher executive functions. The most general executive function of the lateral prefrontal cortex is the temporal organization of goal-directed actions in the domains of behavior, cognition, and language. In all three domains, that global function is supported by a fundamental role of the lateral prefrontal cortex in temporal integration, that is, the integration of temporally discontinuous percepts and neural inputs into coherent structures of action. Temporal integration is in turn served by at least three cognitive functions of somewhat different prefrontal topography: working memory, preparatory set, and inhibitory control. These functions engage the prefrontal cortex in interactive cooperation with other neocortical regions. The development of language epitomizes the development of temporal integrative cognitive functions and their underlying neural substrate, notably the lateral prefrontal cortex and other late-developing cortical regions.