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Arq Neuropsiquiatr. 2002 Dec;60(4):900-5. Epub 2003 Jan 15.

The cerebral correlates of set-shifting: an fMRI study of the trail making test.

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  • 1LABS-Rede D'Or, Grupo de Neuroimagem e Neurologia do Comportamento, D'Or Hospital, RJ Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.


The trail making test (TMT) pertains to a family of tests that tap the ability to alternate between cognitive categories. However, the value of the TMT as a localizing instrument remains elusive. Here we report the results of a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study of a verbal adaptation of the TMT (vTMT). The vTMT takes advantage of the set-shifting properties of the TMT and, at the same time, minimizes the visuospatial and visuomotor components of the written TMT. Whole brain BOLD fMRI was performed during the alternating execution of vTMTA and vTMTB in seven normal adults with more than 12 years of formal education. Brain activation related to the set-shifting component of vTMTB was investigated by comparing performance on vTMTB with vTMTA, a simple counting task. There was a marked asymmetry of activation in favor of the left hemisphere, most notably in dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (BA 6 lateral, 44 and 46) and supplementary motor area/cingulate sulcus (BA 6 medial and 32). The intraparietal sulcus (BA 7 and 39) was bilaterally activated. These findings are in line with clinico-anatomic and functional neuroimaging data that point to a critical role of the dorsolateral and medial prefrontal cortices as well as the intraparietal sulci in the regulation of cognitive flexibility, intention, and the covert execution of saccades/anti-saccades. Many commonly used neuropsychological paradigms, such as the Stroop, Wisconsin Card Sorting, and go - no go tasks, share some patterns of cerebral activation with the TMT.

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