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J Neurophysiol. 2016 Sep 1;116(3):920-37. doi: 10.1152/jn.00157.2016. Epub 2016 Jun 8.

Organization of cortico-cortical pathways supporting memory retrieval across subregions of the left ventrolateral prefrontal cortex.

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Department of Neuroscience, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island; Brown Institute for Brain Sciences, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island;
Department of Psychology, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; and Center for the Neural Basis of Cognition, Carnegie Mellon University, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Department of Cognitive, Linguistic, and Psychological Sciences, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island; Brown Institute for Brain Sciences, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island;


Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) evidence indicates that different subregions of ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (VLPFC) participate in distinct cortical networks. These networks have been shown to support separable cognitive functions: anterior VLPFC [inferior frontal gyrus (IFG) pars orbitalis] functionally correlates with a ventral fronto-temporal network associated with top-down influences on memory retrieval, while mid-VLPFC (IFG pars triangularis) functionally correlates with a dorsal fronto-parietal network associated with postretrieval control processes. However, it is not known to what extent subregional differences in network affiliation and function are driven by differences in the organization of underlying white matter pathways. We used high-angular-resolution diffusion spectrum imaging and functional connectivity analysis in unanesthetized humans to address whether the organization of white matter connectivity differs between subregions of VLPFC. Our results demonstrate a ventral-dorsal division within IFG. Ventral IFG as a whole connects broadly to lateral temporal cortex. Although several different individual white matter tracts form connections between ventral IFG and lateral temporal cortex, functional connectivity analysis of fMRI data indicates that these are part of the same ventral functional network. By contrast, across subdivisions, dorsal IFG was connected with the midfrontal gyrus and correlated as a separate dorsal functional network. These qualitative differences in white matter organization within larger macroanatomical subregions of VLPFC support prior functional distinctions among these regions observed in task-based and functional connectivity fMRI studies. These results are consistent with the proposal that anatomical connectivity is a crucial determinant of systems-level functional organization of frontal cortex and the brain in general.


anatomical connectivity; diffusion spectrum imaging; functional connectivity; prefrontal organization; ventrolateral prefrontal cortex

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