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Neuroimage. 2011 Jan 1;54(1):528-40. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2010.08.027. Epub 2010 Aug 20.

Functional heterogeneity of conflict, error, task-switching, and unexpectedness effects within medial prefrontal cortex.

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Department of Psychological & Brain Sciences, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN 47405, USA.


The last decade has seen considerable discussion regarding a theoretical account of medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC) function with particular focus on the anterior cingulate cortex. The proposed theories have included conflict detection, error likelihood prediction, volatility monitoring, and several distinct theories of error detection. Arguments for and against particular theories often treat mPFC as functionally homogeneous, or at least nearly so, despite some evidence for distinct functional subregions. Here we used functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) to simultaneously contrast multiple effects of error, conflict, and task-switching that have been individually construed in support of various theories. We found overlapping yet functionally distinct subregions of mPFC, with activations related to dominant error, conflict, and task-switching effects successively found along a rostral-ventral to caudal-dorsal gradient within medial prefrontal cortex. Activations in the rostral cingulate zone (RCZ) were strongly correlated with the unexpectedness of outcomes suggesting a role in outcome prediction and preparing control systems to deal with anticipated outcomes. The results as a whole support a resolution of some ongoing debates in that distinct theories may each pertain to corresponding distinct yet overlapping subregions of mPFC.

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