Using fMRI to decompose the neural processes underlying the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test

Neuroimage. 2006 Apr 15;30(3):1038-49. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2005.10.031. Epub 2006 Jan 18.


The specific role of particular cerebral regions with regard to executive functions remains elusive. We conducted a functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) study to segregate different network components underlying the Wisconsin Card Sorting Test (WCST), a test widely applied clinically to assess executive abilities. Three different test variants of the WCST, differing in task complexity (A > B > C), were contrasted with a high-level baseline condition (HLB). Cognitive subcomponents were extracted in a serial subtraction approach (A-C, A-B, B-C). Imaging data were further subjected to a correlational analysis with individual behavioral parameters. Contrasting A with the HLB revealed the entire neural network underlying WCST performance, including frontoparietal regions and the striatum. Further analysis showed that, within this network, right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex related to simple working memory operations, while right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex related to more complex/manipulative working memory operations. The rostral anterior cingulate cortex (ACC) and the temporoparietal junction bilaterally represented an attentional network for error detection. In contrast, activation of the caudal ACC and the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex was associated with increased attentional control in the context of increasing demands of working memory and cognitive control. Non-frontal activations were found to be related to (uninstructed relative to instructed) set-shifting (cerebellum) and working memory representations (superior parietal cortex, retrosplenium). The data provide neural correlates for the different cognitive components involved in the WCST. They support a central role of the right dorsolateral prefrontal cortex in executive working memory operations and cognitive control functions but also suggest a functional dissociation of the rostral and caudal ACC in the implementation of attentional control.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Brain / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging*
  • Male
  • Neuropsychological Tests*
  • Task Performance and Analysis