Proactive and reactive cognitive control rely on flexible use of the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex

Hum Brain Mapp. 2019 Feb 15;40(3):955-966. doi: 10.1002/hbm.24424. Epub 2018 Nov 8.


The role of ventral versus dorsolateral prefrontal regions in instantiating proactive and reactive cognitive control remains actively debated, with few studies parsing cue versus probe-related activity. Rapid sampling (460 ms), long cue-probe delays, and advanced analytic techniques (deconvolution) were therefore used to quantify the magnitude and variability of neural responses during the AX Continuous Performance Test (AX-CPT; N = 46) in humans. Behavioral results indicated slower reaction times during reactive cognitive control (AY trials) in conjunction with decreased accuracy and increased variability for proactive cognitive control (BX trials). The anterior insula/ventrolateral prefrontal cortex (aI/VLPFC) was commonly activated across comparisons of both proactive and reactive cognitive control. In contrast, activity within the dorsomedial and dorsolateral prefrontal cortex was limited to reactive cognitive control. The instantiation of proactive cognitive control during the probe period was also associated with sparse neural activation relative to baseline, potentially as a result of the high degree of neural and behavioral variability observed across individuals. Specifically, the variability of the hemodynamic response function (HRF) within motor circuitry increased after the presentation of B relative to A cues (i.e., late in HRF) and persisted throughout the B probe period. Finally, increased activation of right aI/VLPFC during the cue period was associated with decreased motor circuit activity during BX probes, suggesting a possible role for the aI/VLPFC in proactive suppression of neural responses. Considered collectively, current results highlight the flexible role of the VLPFC in implementing cognitive control during the AX-CPT task but suggest large individual differences in proactive cognitive control strategies.

Keywords: AX-CPT; proactive cognitive control; reactive cognitive control; ventrolateral prefrontal cortex.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Cognition / physiology*
  • Echo-Planar Imaging / methods
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Prefrontal Cortex / physiology*
  • Reaction Time / physiology*