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The frontopolar cortex and human cognition: Evidence for a rostrocaudal hierarchical organization within the human prefrontal cortex

Abstract

Numerous brain lesion and functional neuroimaging studies have suggested that the dorsolateral and frontopolar prefrontal regions are involved in complex cognitive processes subserving thought and memory. However, previously proposed functional subdivisions of prefrontal function have concentrated predominantly on posterior prefrontal cortex, including the dorsolateral, ventral, and medial regions. Far less consideration has been given to characterizing the psychological processes mediated by the frontopolar cortex. Here we review published neuroimaging studies of reasoning and episodic memory, two domains in which the frontopolar cortex has been frequently activated. The results suggest that dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is involved when externally generated information is being evaluated, whereas the frontopolar cortex becomes recruited when internally generated information needs to be evaluated. A hierarchical model of prefrontal function is proposed in which dorsolateral and frontopolar regions are serially recruited as a reasoning or memory task requires evaluation of internally generated information.

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Correspondence to Kalina Christoff.

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Support for this article came from National Institute of Aging Grants AG12995 and AG1121 to J.D.E.G. and a New Democracy Fellowship award to K.C. We thank Shelley Zulman for help with preparing the tables, Vivek Prabhakaran for providing the foci for the RPM study, Ewart Thomas for advice on statistical issues, and Matthew Brett for providing the program used to plot foci onto brain renderings. We are also grateful to Chandan Vaidya and two anonymous reviewers, who provided helpful suggestions regarding an earlier version of the article.

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Christoff, K., Gabrieli, J.D.E. The frontopolar cortex and human cognition: Evidence for a rostrocaudal hierarchical organization within the human prefrontal cortex. Psychobiology 28, 168–186 (2000). https://doi.org/10.3758/BF03331976

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Keywords

  • Prefrontal Cortex
  • Frontal Lobe
  • Free Recall
  • Episodic Memory
  • Reasoning Task