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Cereb Cortex. 2001 Nov;11(11):1040-6.

Anterior prefrontal cortex mediates rule learning in humans.

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  • 1Wellcome Department of Cognitive Neurology, Institute of Neurology, 12 Queen Square, London WC1N 3BG, UK.


Despite a need for rule learning in everyday life, the brain regions involved in explicit rule induction remain undetermined. Here we use event-related functional magnetic resonance imaging to measure learning-dependent neuronal responses during an explicit categorization task. Subjects made category decisions, with feedback, to exemplar letter strings for which the rule governing category membership was periodically changed. Bilateral fronto-polar prefrontal cortices were selectively engaged following rule change. This activation pattern declined with improving task performance reflecting rule acquisition. The vocabulary of letters comprising the exemplars was also periodically changed, independently of rule changes. This exemplar change modulated activation in left anterior hippocampus. Our finding that fronto-polar cortex mediates rule learning supports a functional contribution of this region to generic reasoning and problem-solving behaviours.

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