The present experiment tested three hypotheses regarding the function and organization of lateral prefrontal cortex (PFC). The first account (the information cascade hypothesis) suggests that the anterior-posterior organization of lateral PFC is based on the timing with which cue stimuli reduce uncertainty in the action selection process. The second account (the levels-of-abstraction hypothesis) suggests that the anterior-posterior organization of lateral PFC is based on the degree of abstraction of the task goals. The current study began by investigating these two hypotheses, and identified several areas of lateral PFC that were predicted to be active by both the information cascade and levels-of-abstraction accounts. However, the pattern of activation across experimental conditions was inconsistent with both theoretical accounts. Specifically, an anterior area of mid-dorsolateral PFC exhibited sensitivity to experimental conditions that, according to both accounts, should have selectively engaged only posterior areas of PFC. We therefore investigated a third possible account (the adaptive context maintenance hypothesis) that postulates that both posterior and anterior regions of PFC are reliably engaged in task conditions requiring active maintenance of contextual information, with the temporal dynamics of activity in these regions flexibly tracking the duration of maintenance demands. Activity patterns in lateral PFC were consistent with this third hypothesis: regions across lateral PFC exhibited transient activation when contextual information had to be updated and maintained in a trial-by-trial manner, but sustained activation when contextual information had to be maintained over a series of trials. These findings prompt a reconceptualization of current views regarding the anterior-posterior organization of lateral PFC, but do support other findings regarding the active maintenance role of lateral PFC in sequential working memory paradigms.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Biochemistry, Genetics and Molecular Biology(all)
- Agricultural and Biological Sciences(all)