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Neuropsychologia. 2011 Jul;49(8):2185-98. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2011.02.045. Epub 2011 Mar 1.

The role of rostral prefrontal cortex in prospective memory: a voxel-based lesion study.

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  • 1Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience - UCL (University College London), 17 Queen Square, London WC1N 3AR, UK.


Patients with lesions in rostral prefrontal cortex (PFC) often experience problems in everyday-life situations requiring multitasking. A key cognitive component that is critical in multitasking situations is prospective memory, defined as the ability to carry out an intended action after a delay period filled with unrelated activity. The few functional imaging studies investigating prospective memory have shown consistent activation in both medial and lateral rostral PFC but also in more posterior prefrontal regions and non-frontal regions. The aim of this study was to determine regions that are necessary for prospective memory performance, using the human lesion approach. We designed an experimental paradigm allowing us to assess time-based (remembering to do something at a particular time) and event-based (remembering to do something in a particular situation) prospective memory, using two types of material, words and pictures. Time estimation tasks and tasks controlling for basic attention, inhibition and multiple instructions processing were also administered. We examined brain-behaviour relationships with a voxelwise lesion method in 45 patients with focal brain lesions and 107 control subjects using this paradigm. The results showed that lesions in the right polar prefrontal region (in Brodmann area 10) were specifically associated with a deficit in time-based prospective memory tasks for both words and pictures. This deficit could not be explained by impairments in basic attention, detection, inhibition or multiple instruction processing, and there was also no deficit in event-based prospective memory conditions. In addition to their prospective memory difficulties, these polar prefrontal patients were significantly impaired in time estimation ability compared to other patients. The same region was found to be involved using both words and pictures, suggesting that right rostral PFC plays a material nonspecific role in prospective memory. This is the first lesion study showing that rostral PFC is crucial for time-based prospective memory. The findings suggest that time-based and event-based prospective memory might be supported at least in part by distinct brain regions. Two particularly plausible explanations for the deficit rest upon a possible role for polar prefrontal structures in supporting in time estimation, and/or in retrieving an intention to act. More broadly, the results are consistent with the view that the deficit of rostral patients in multitasking situations might at least in part be explained by a deficit in prospective memory.

Copyright © 2011 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

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