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Neuroscience. 2006 Apr 28;139(1):209-21. Epub 2005 Dec 1.

Exploration of the neural substrates of executive functioning by functional neuroimaging.

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Department of Neuropsychology, University of Liège, Boulevard du Rectorat 3 (B33), B-4000 Liège (Sart Tilman), Belgium.


This review presents neuroimaging studies that have explored the cerebral substrates of executive functioning. These studies have demonstrated that different executive functions not only recruit various frontal areas but also depend upon posterior (mainly parietal) regions. These results are in accordance with the hypothesis that executive functioning relies on a distributed cerebral network that is not restricted to anterior cerebral areas. However, there exists an important heterogeneity in the cerebral areas associated with these different processes, and also between different tasks assessing the same process. Since these discrepant results could be due to the paradigms used (subtraction designs), recent results obtained with conjunction and interaction analyses are presented, which confirm the role of parietal areas in executive functioning and also demonstrate the existence of some specificity in the neural substrates of the executive processes of updating, shifting and inhibition. Finally, functional magnetic resonance imaging studies show that the activity in cerebral areas involved in executive tasks can be transient or sustained. Consequently, to better characterize the functional role of areas associated with executive functioning, it is important to take into account not only the localization of cerebral activity but also the temporal pattern of this activity.

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