Left mid-ventrolateral prefrontal cortex: underlying principles of function

Authors

  • Penelope Kostopoulos,

    1. Montreal Neurological Institute, Neuropsychology Unit, 3801 University Street, McGill University, Montreal, H3A 2B4, Quebec, Canada
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  • Michael Petrides

    1. Montreal Neurological Institute, Neuropsychology Unit, 3801 University Street, McGill University, Montreal, H3A 2B4, Quebec, Canada
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P. Kostopoulos, as above.
E-mail: penelope@bic.mni.mcgill.ca

Abstract

There is a growing body of evidence indicating that the mid-ventrolateral prefrontal cortex in the left hemisphere is involved in some aspect of controlled verbal memory retrieval. Its precise role, however, remains unclear. We tested the hypothesis that when stimuli in memory are related to each other in multiple ways, and therefore familiarity, strong constant stimulus–stimulus links or contextual cues are not sufficient for successful retrieval, control processing emanating from the mid-ventrolateral prefrontal cortex is required to disambiguate and select the appropriate information among memory traces. We refer to this type of retrieval as active retrieval to distinguish it from automatic retrieval which depends on the simple reactivation of memory traces. Normal human subjects were scanned with functional magnetic resonance imaging while they performed three memory tasks that varied in their demands on active retrieval of verbal information. As the demands on active retrieval increased, there was an increase in the activity within the mid-ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, bilaterally, but with more prominent activity in the left hemisphere. These activity increases correlated with activity in the posterior temporal region which, in the left hemisphere, is involved in language processing. No significant activity increases were observed in any other prefrontal region. Furthermore, for the retrieval of well-learned verbally cued conditional motor associations, there were no activity increases in the mid-ventrolateral prefrontal cortex. The present findings provide strong support for the hypothesis that the mid-ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, particularly in the left hemisphere, plays a major role in the active retrieval of information from verbal memory.

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