Levels of integration in cognitive control and sequence processing in the prefrontal cortex

PLoS One. 2012;7(8):e43774. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0043774. Epub 2012 Aug 29.

Abstract

Cognitive control is necessary to flexibly act in changing environments. Sequence processing is needed in language comprehension to build the syntactic structure in sentences. Functional imaging studies suggest that sequence processing engages the left ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (PFC). In contrast, cognitive control processes additionally recruit bilateral rostral lateral PFC regions. The present study aimed to investigate these two types of processes in one experimental paradigm. Sequence processing was manipulated using two different sequencing rules varying in complexity. Cognitive control was varied with different cue-sets that determined the choice of a sequencing rule. Univariate analyses revealed distinct PFC regions for the two types of processing (i.e. sequence processing: left ventrolateral PFC and cognitive control processing: bilateral dorsolateral and rostral PFC). Moreover, in a common brain network (including left lateral PFC and intraparietal sulcus) no interaction between sequence and cognitive control processing was observed. In contrast, a multivariate pattern analysis revealed an interaction of sequence and cognitive control processing, such that voxels in left lateral PFC and parietal cortex showed different tuning functions for tasks involving different sequencing and cognitive control demands. These results suggest that the difference between the process of rule selection (i.e. cognitive control) and the process of rule-based sequencing (i.e. sequence processing) find their neuronal underpinnings in distinct activation patterns in lateral PFC. Moreover, the combination of rule selection and rule sequencing can shape the response of neurons in lateral PFC and parietal cortex.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Behavior / physiology
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Image Processing, Computer-Assisted
  • Language*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Male
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Time Factors

Grant support

This research was supported by the Leopoldina - National Academy of Science Grant (LPDS 2009-20). The funders had no role in study design, data collection and analysis, decision to publish, or preparation of the manuscript.