Neuronal mechanisms of executive control by the prefrontal cortex

Neurosci Res. 2001 Feb;39(2):147-65. doi: 10.1016/s0168-0102(00)00224-8.


Executive function is considered to be a product of the coordinated operation of various processes to accomplish a particular goal in a flexible manner. The mechanism or system responsible for the coordinated operation of various processes is called executive control. Impairments caused by damage to the prefrontal cortex are often called dysexecutive syndromes. Therefore, the prefrontal cortex is considered to play a significant role in executive control. Prefrontal participation to executive control can be partly explained by working memory that includes mechanisms for temporary active storage of information and processing stored information. For the prefrontal cortex to exert executive control, neuronal mechanisms for temporary storage of information and dynamic and flexible interactions among them are necessary. In this article, we present the presence of dynamic and flexible changes in the strength of functional interaction and extensive functional interactions among temporal information-storage processes in the prefrontal cortex. In addition, recent imaging studies show dynamic changes in functional connectivity between the prefrontal cortex and other cortical and subcortical structures depending upon the characteristics or the temporal context of the task. These observations indicate that the examination of dynamic and flexible modulation in neuronal interaction among prefrontal neurons as well as between the prefrontal cortex and other cortical and subcortical areas is important for explaining how the prefrontal cortex exerts executive control.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Attention / physiology
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Models, Neurological
  • Neurons / physiology*
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*