Exploring the unity and diversity of the neural substrates of executive functioning

Hum Brain Mapp. 2005 Aug;25(4):409-23. doi: 10.1002/hbm.20118.


Previous studies exploring the neural substrates of executive functioning used task-specific analyses, which might not be the most appropriate approach due to the difficulty of precisely isolating executive functions. Consequently, the aim of this study was to use positron emission tomography (PET) to reexamine by conjunction and interaction paradigms the cerebral areas associated with three executive processes (updating, shifting, and inhibition). Three conjunction analyses allowed us to isolate the cerebral areas common to tasks selected to tap into the same executive process. A global conjunction analysis demonstrated that foci of activation common to all tasks were observed in the right intraparietal sulcus, the left superior parietal gyrus, and at a lower statistical threshold, the left lateral prefrontal cortex. These regions thus seem to play a general role in executive functioning. The right intraparietal sulcus seems to play a role in selective attention to relevant stimuli and in suppression of irrelevant information. The left superior parietal region is involved in amodal switching/integration processes. One hypothesis regarding the functional role of the lateral prefrontal cortex is that monitoring and temporal organization of cognitive processes are necessary to carry out ongoing tasks. Finally, interaction analyses showed that specific prefrontal cerebral areas were associated with each executive process. The results of this neuroimaging study are in agreement with cognitive studies demonstrating that executive functioning is characterized by both unity and diversity of processes.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Brain Mapping
  • Cerebral Cortex / anatomy & histology*
  • Cerebral Cortex / diagnostic imaging
  • Cerebral Cortex / physiology*
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Female
  • Functional Laterality / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Models, Neurological
  • Nerve Net / anatomy & histology*
  • Nerve Net / diagnostic imaging
  • Nerve Net / physiology*
  • Neural Inhibition / physiology
  • Neural Pathways / anatomy & histology*
  • Neural Pathways / physiology*
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Parietal Lobe / anatomy & histology
  • Parietal Lobe / diagnostic imaging
  • Parietal Lobe / physiology
  • Positron-Emission Tomography
  • Prefrontal Cortex / anatomy & histology
  • Prefrontal Cortex / diagnostic imaging
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology
  • Psychomotor Performance / physiology
  • Time Factors
  • Volition / physiology