An integrative theory of prefrontal cortex function

E. K. Miller, J. D. Cohen

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

9121 Scopus citations


The prefrontal cortex has long been suspected to play an important role in cognitive control, in the ability to orchestrate thought and action in accordance with internal goals. Its neural basis, however, has remained a mystery. Here, we propose that cognitive control stems from the active maintenance of patterns of activity in the prefrontal cortex that represent goals and the means to achieve them. They provide bias signals to other brain structures whose net effect is to guide the flow of activity along neural pathways that establish the proper mappings between inputs, internal states, and outputs needed to perform a given task. We review neurophysiological, neurobiological, neuroimaging, and computational studies that support this theory and discuss its implications as well as further issues to be addressed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)167-202
Number of pages36
JournalAnnual Review of Neuroscience
StatePublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Neuroscience


  • Attention
  • Cognition
  • Executive control
  • Frontal lobes
  • Working memory


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