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J Neurosci. 2012 Jan 18;32(3):806-16. doi: 10.1523/JNEUROSCI.4299-12.2012.

Dissociating the role of prefrontal and premotor cortices in controlling inhibitory mechanisms during motor preparation.

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Department of Psychology, University of California, Berkeley, California 94720, USA.


Top-down control processes are critical to select goal-directed actions in flexible environments. In humans, these processes include two inhibitory mechanisms that operate during response selection: one is involved in solving a competition between different response options, the other ensures that a selected response is initiated in a timely manner. Here, we evaluated the role of dorsal premotor cortex (PMd) and lateral prefrontal cortex (LPF) of healthy subjects in these two forms of inhibition by using an innovative transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) protocol combining repetitive TMS (rTMS) over PMd or LPF and a single pulse TMS (sTMS) over primary motor cortex (M1). sTMS over M1 allowed us to assess inhibitory changes in corticospinal excitability, while rTMS was used to produce transient disruption of PMd or LPF. We found that rTMS over LPF reduces inhibition associated with competition resolution, whereas rTMS over PMd decreases inhibition associated with response impulse control. These results emphasize the dissociable contributions of these two frontal regions to inhibitory control during motor preparation. The association of LPF with competition resolution is consistent with the role of this area in relatively abstract aspects of control related to goal maintenance, ensuring that the appropriate response is selected in a variable context. In contrast, the association of PMd with impulse control is consistent with the role of this area in more specific processes related to motor preparation and initiation.

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