Background: The human inferior frontal junction area (IFJ) is critically involved in three main component processes of cognitive control (working memory, task switching and inhibitory control). As it overlaps with several areas in established anatomical labeling schemes, it is considered to be underreported as a functionally distinct location in the neuroimaging literature. While recent studies explicitly focused on the IFJ's anatomical organization and functional role as a single brain area, it is usually not explicitly denominated in studies on cognitive networks. However based on few analyses in small datasets constrained by specific a priori assumptions on its functional specialization, the IFJ has been postulated to be part of a cognitive control network. Goal of this meta-analysis was to establish the IFJ's connectivity profile on a high formal level of evidence by aggregating published implicit knowledge about its co-activations. We applied meta-analytical connectivity modeling (MACM) based on the activation likelihood estimation (ALE) method without specific assumptions regarding functional specialization on 180 (reporting left IFJ activity) and 131 (right IFJ) published functional neuroimaging experiments derived from the BrainMap database. This method is based on coordinates in stereotaxic space, not on anatomical descriptors.
Results: The IFJ is significantly co-activated with areas in the dorsolateral and ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, anterior insula, medial frontal gyrus / pre-SMA, posterior parietal cortex, occipitotemporal junction / cerebellum, thalamus and putamen as well as language and motor areas. Results are corroborated by an independent resting-state fMRI analysis.
Conclusions: These results support the assumption that the IFJ is part of a previously described cognitive control network. They also highlight the involvement of subcortical structures in this system. A direct line is drawn from works on the functional significance of brain activity located at the IFJ and its anatomical definition to published results related to distributed cognitive brain systems. The IFJ is therefore introduced as a convenient starting point to investigate the cognitive control network in further studies.