The role of the rostral frontal cortex (area 10) in prospective memory: a lateral versus medial dissociation

Neuropsychologia. 2003;41(8):906-18. doi: 10.1016/s0028-3932(02)00327-5.


Using the H(2)(15)O PET method, we investigated whether previous findings of regional cerebral blood flow (rCBF) changes in the polar and superior rostral aspects of the frontal lobes (principally Brodmann's area (BA) 10) during prospective memory (PM) paradigms (i.e. those involving carrying out an intended action after a delay) can be attributed merely to the greater difficulty of such tasks over the baseline conditions typically employed. Three different tasks were administered under four conditions: baseline simple RT; attention-demanding ongoing task only; ongoing task plus a delayed intention (unpracticed); ongoing task plus delayed intention (practiced). Under prospective memory conditions, we found significant rCBF decreases in the superior medial aspects of the rostral prefrontal cortex (BA 10) relative to the baseline or ongoing task only conditions. However more lateral aspects of area 10 (plus the medio-dorsal thalamus) showed the opposite pattern, with rCBF increases in the prospective memory conditions relative to the other conditions. These patterns were broadly replicated over all three tasks. Since both the medial and lateral rostral regions showed: (a) instances where rCBF was lower during a more effortful condition (as estimated by increased RTs and error rates) than in a less effortful one; and (b) there was no correlation between rCBF and RT durations or number of errors in these regions, a simple task difficulty explanation of the rCBF changes in the rostral aspects of the frontal lobes during prospective memory tasks is rejected. Instead, the favoured explanation concentrates upon the particular processing demands made by these situations irrespective of the precise stimuli used or the exact nature of the intention. Moreover, the results suggest different roles for medial and lateral rostral prefrontal cortex, with the former involved in suppressing internally-generated thought, and the latter in maintaining it.

Publication types

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

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Attention
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cerebral Cortex / diagnostic imaging
  • Dissociative Disorders*
  • Functional Laterality
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Memory / physiology*
  • Pattern Recognition, Visual
  • Photic Stimulation
  • Practice, Psychological
  • Prefrontal Cortex / anatomy & histology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Psychomotor Performance
  • Radiography
  • Reaction Time
  • Regional Blood Flow
  • Semantics
  • Tomography, Emission-Computed / methods