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Neuropsychologia. 2011 Jul;49(9):2592-608. doi: 10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2011.04.035. Epub 2011 May 18.

Functional dissociations between four basic arithmetic operations in the human posterior parietal cortex: a cytoarchitectonic mapping study.

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  • 1Department of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences, Stanford University School of Medicine, Stanford, CA 94305-5179, USA. miriamrl@stanford.edu

Abstract

Although lesion studies over the past several decades have focused on functional dissociations in posterior parietal cortex (PPC) during arithmetic, no consistent view has emerged of its differential involvement in addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division. To circumvent problems with poor anatomical localization, we examined functional overlap and dissociations in cytoarchitectonically defined subdivisions of the intraparietal sulcus (IPS), superior parietal lobule (SPL) and angular gyrus (AG), across these four operations. Compared to a number identification control task, all operations except addition, showed a consistent profile of left posterior IPS activation and deactivation in the right posterior AG. Multiplication and subtraction differed significantly in right, but not left, IPS and AG activity, challenging the view that the left AG differentially subserves retrieval during multiplication. Although addition and multiplication both rely on retrieval, multiplication evoked significantly greater activation in right posterior IPS, as well as the prefrontal cortex, lingual and fusiform gyri, demonstrating that addition and multiplication engage different brain processes. Comparison of PPC responses to the two pairs of inverse operations: division versus multiplication and subtraction versus addition revealed greater activation of left lateral SPL during division, suggesting that processing inverse relations is operation specific. Our findings demonstrate that individual IPS, SPL and AG subdivisions are differentially modulated by the four arithmetic operations and they point to significant functional heterogeneity and individual differences in activation and deactivation within the PPC. Critically, these effects are related to retrieval, calculation and inversion, the three key cognitive processes that are differentially engaged by arithmetic operations. Our findings point to distribute representation of these processes in the human PPC and also help explain why lesion and previous imaging studies have yielded inconsistent findings.

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