Research Summary: Rule-Guided Executive Control of Response Inhibition: Functional Topography of the Inferior Frontal Cortex



The human inferior frontal cortex (IFC) is a large heterogeneous structure with distinct cytoarchitectonic subdivisions and fiber connections. It has been found involved in a wide range of executive control processes from target detection, rule retrieval to response control. Since these processes are often being studied separately, the functional organization of executive control processes within the IFC remains unclear.

Methodology/Principal Findings

We conducted an fMRI study to examine the activities of the subdivisions of IFC during the presentation of a task cue (rule retrieval) and during the performance of a stop-signal task (requiring response generation and inhibition) in comparison to a not-stop task (requiring response generation but not inhibition). We utilized a mixed event-related and block design to separate brain activity in correspondence to transient control processes from rule-related and sustained control processes. We found differentiation in control processes within the IFC. Our findings reveal that the bilateral ventral-posterior IFC/anterior insula are more active on both successful and unsuccessful stop trials relative to not-stop trials, suggesting their potential role in the early stage of stopping such as triggering the stop process. Direct countermanding seems to be outside of the IFC. In contrast, the dorsal-posterior IFC/inferior frontal junction (IFJ) showed transient activity in correspondence to the infrequent presentation of the stop signal in both tasks and the left anterior IFC showed differential activity in response to the task cues. The IFC subdivisions also exhibited similar but distinct patterns of functional connectivity during response control.


Our findings suggest that executive control processes are distributed across the IFC and that the different subdivisions of IFC may support different control operations through parallel cortico-cortical and cortico-striatal circuits.


Publisher: Public Library of Science

Date Published: 6-June-2011

Author(s): Cai W., Leung H.


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