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Cereb Cortex. 2012 Aug;22(8):1876-86. doi: 10.1093/cercor/bhr264. Epub 2011 Oct 4.

Rostral prefrontal cortex and the focus of attention in prospective memory.

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Medical Research Council Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, Cambridge CB2 7EF, UK.


Prospective memory (PM) denotes the function to realize intentions after a delay while being immersed in distracting ongoing (OG) activity. Here, we scrutinize the often-reported involvement of rostral prefrontal cortex (rPFC; approximating Brodmann area 10) in such situations: This region might mediate attention between external stimuli and the internally maintained intention, that is, between stimulus-oriented (SO) and stimulus-independent (SI) processing. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) we orthogonally crossed 1) PM versus OG activity only, with 2) SO versus SI attention. In support of the hypothesis, common regions of medial rPFC exhibited greater blood oxygen level-dependent (BOLD) signal for the contrasts of both OG task only versus PM and SO versus SI attending. However, activation related to the former contrast extended more superiorly, suggesting a functional gradient along a dorsal-ventral axis within this region. Moreover, region-of-interest analyses revealed that PM versus OG task only was associated with greater BOLD signal in left lateral rPFC, reflecting the requirement to maintain delayed intentions. Distinct aspects of this region were also transiently engaged at transitions between SO and SI conditions. These results are consistent with the hypothesis that some of the rostral prefrontal signal changes associated with PM performance reflect relative differences in SO versus SI processing.

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