Graph lesion-deficit mapping of fluid intelligence

Brain. 2023 Jan 5;146(1):167-181. doi: 10.1093/brain/awac304.


Fluid intelligence is arguably the defining feature of human cognition. Yet the nature of its relationship with the brain remains a contentious topic. Influential proposals drawing primarily on functional imaging data have implicated 'multiple demand' frontoparietal and more widely distributed cortical networks, but extant lesion-deficit studies with greater causal power are almost all small, methodologically constrained, and inconclusive. The task demands large samples of patients, comprehensive investigation of performance, fine-grained anatomical mapping, and robust lesion-deficit inference, yet to be brought to bear on it. We assessed 165 healthy controls and 227 frontal or non-frontal patients with unilateral brain lesions on the best-established test of fluid intelligence, Raven's Advanced Progressive Matrices, employing an array of lesion-deficit inferential models responsive to the potentially distributed nature of fluid intelligence. Non-parametric Bayesian stochastic block models were used to reveal the community structure of lesion deficit networks, disentangling functional from confounding pathological distributed effects. Impaired performance was confined to patients with frontal lesions [F(2,387) = 18.491; P < 0.001; frontal worse than non-frontal and healthy participants P < 0.01, P <0.001], more marked on the right than left [F(4,385) = 12.237; P < 0.001; right worse than left and healthy participants P < 0.01, P < 0.001]. Patients with non-frontal lesions were indistinguishable from controls and showed no modulation by laterality. Neither the presence nor the extent of multiple demand network involvement affected performance. Both conventional network-based statistics and non-parametric Bayesian stochastic block modelling heavily implicated the right frontal lobe. Crucially, this localization was confirmed on explicitly disentangling functional from pathology-driven effects within a layered stochastic block model, prominently highlighting a right frontal network involving middle and inferior frontal gyrus, pre- and post-central gyri, with a weak contribution from right superior parietal lobule. Similar results were obtained with standard lesion-deficit analyses. Our study represents the first large-scale investigation of the distributed neural substrates of fluid intelligence in the focally injured brain. Combining novel graph-based lesion-deficit mapping with detailed investigation of cognitive performance in a large sample of patients provides crucial information about the neural basis of intelligence. Our findings indicate that a set of predominantly right frontal regions, rather than a more widely distributed network, is critical to the high-level functions involved in fluid intelligence. Further they suggest that Raven's Advanced Progressive Matrices is a useful clinical index of fluid intelligence and a sensitive marker of right frontal lobe dysfunction.

Keywords: executive functions; fluency; focal lesion; frontal lobes; lesion-symptom mapping.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bayes Theorem
  • Brain Mapping / methods
  • Brain* / diagnostic imaging
  • Cognition
  • Frontal Lobe / diagnostic imaging
  • Humans
  • Intelligence*
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Neuropsychological Tests
  • Prefrontal Cortex