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July 3, 2009

Mapping the prefrontal cortex

Scientists are a step closer to pinning down the functions of the different regions of the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain responsible for high level cognitive behaviour such as decision making and social conduct. Research in macaque monkeys suggests that each region carries out a distinct functional role.

The latest findings by researchers at the Laboratory for Cognitive Brain Mapping of the RIKEN Brain Science Institute and researchers at the Department of Experimental Psychology of the University of Oxford, published in Science this week, shed light on the nature of these functional differences.

The researchers trained fourteen macaque monkeys to carry out a behavioural task based on the Wisconsin card-sorting test, often referred to as a 'frontal lobe' test on the basis that patients with any sort of lesion on their frontal lobe tend to do badly at it. The impact on the macaque's performance of lesions to five regions of the macaque prefrontal cortex was analyzed, results revealing that each region carries out a distinct functional role.

The discovery of these roles implies the existence of multiple functional components underlying seemingly inseparable high-level actions behaviours, unravelling the mystery of adaptive behaviour in primates. The findings may also prove useful in the understanding and treatment of mental diseases such as schizophrenia, which are thought to arise from a functional disorder in the prefrontal cortex.

Contact

Keiji Tanaka
Farshad A. Mansouri
Laboratory for Cognitive Brain Mapping
RIKEN Brain Science Institute

Mark J. Buckley
Department of Experimental Psychology
University of Oxford
Tel / Fax: +44 (0) 1865 2-81919

Jens Wilkinson
RIKEN Global Relations and Research Coordination Office
Tel: +81-(0)48-462-1225 / Fax: +81-(0)48-463-3687
Email: pr@riken.jp