Is the Frontal Dysexecutive Syndrome Due to a Working Memory Deficit? Evidence From Patients With Stroke

Brain. 2012 Jul;135(Pt 7):2192-201. doi: 10.1093/brain/aws132. Epub 2012 May 24.


Although frontal dysexecutive disorders are frequently considered to be due to working memory deficit, this has not been systematically examined and very little evidence is available for impairment of working memory in frontal damage. The objective of this study was to examine the components of working memory, their anatomy and the relations with executive functions in patients with stroke involving the frontal or posterior cortex. The study population consisted of 29 patients (frontal: n=17; posterior: n=12) and 29 matched controls. Phonological loop (letter and word spans, phonological store; rehearsal process), visuospatial sketchpad (visuospatial span) and the central executive (working memory span, dual task and updating process) were examined. The group comparison analysis showed impairment in the frontal group of: (i) verbal spans (P<0.03); (ii) with a deficit of the rehearsal process (P=0.006); (iii) visuospatial span (P=0.04); (iv) working memory span (P=0.001) that disappeared after controlling for verbal span and (v) running memory (P=0.05) unrelated to updating conditions. The clinical anatomical correlation study showed that impairment of the central executive depended on frontal and posterior lesion. Cognitive dysexecutive disorders were observed in 11/20 patients with central executive deficit and an inverse dissociation was observed in two patients. Receiver operating characteristic curve analysis indicated that cognitive dysexecutive disorders had the highest ability to discriminate frontal lesions (area under curve=0.844, 95% confidence interval: 0.74-0.95; P=0.0001; central executive impairment: area under curve=0.732, 95% confidence interval: 0.57-0.82; P=0.006). This study reveals that frontal lesions induce mild impairment of short-term memory associated with a deficit of the rehearsal process supporting the role of the frontal lobe in this process; the central executive depends on lesions in the frontal lobe and posterior regions accounting for its low frequency and the negative results of group studies. Finally, the frontal dysexecutive syndrome cannot be attributed to central executive impairment, although it may contribute to some dysexecutive disorders.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Brain Mapping / methods
  • Brain Mapping / psychology*
  • Case-Control Studies
  • Cerebral Cortex / pathology
  • Executive Function*
  • Female
  • Frontal Lobe / pathology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / methods
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging / psychology
  • Male
  • Memory Disorders / pathology
  • Memory Disorders / psychology*
  • Memory, Short-Term*
  • Middle Aged
  • Neuropsychological Tests / statistics & numerical data
  • ROC Curve
  • Stroke / complications
  • Stroke / pathology
  • Stroke / psychology*
  • Syndrome