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The prefrontal cortex—An update: Time is of the essence

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  • University of California Los Angeles Medical School

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Neuron, Vol. 30, 319–333, May, 2001, Copyright 2001 by Cell Press
ReviewThe Prefrontal Cortex—An Update:
Time Is of the Essence
many of the principles discussed below apply also to
the PFC of nonprimate species.
Joaquı
´n M. Fuster*
Neuropsychiatric Institute and Brain Research
Institute
University of California, Los Angeles Anatomy and Connections
The PFC is the association cortex of the frontal lobe. InLos Angeles, California 90095
primates, it comprises areas 8–13, 24, 32, 46, and 47
according to the cytoarchitectonic map of Brodmann
The physiology of the cerebral cortex is organized in (1909), recently updated for the monkey by Petrides and
hierarchical manner. At the bottom of the cortical organi- Pandya (Figure 1). Phylogenetically, it is one of the latest
zation, sensory and motor areas support specific sen- cortices to develop, having attained maximum relative
sory and motor functions. Progressively higher areas—of growth in the human brain (Brodmann, 1912; Jerison,
later phylogenetic and ontogenetic development—support 1994), where it constitutes nearly one-third of the neocor-
functions that are progressively more integrative. The tex. Furthermore, the PFC undergoes late development in
prefrontal cortex (PFC) constitutes the highest level of the course of ontogeny. In the human, by myelogenic and
the cortical hierarchy dedicated to the representation synaptogenic criteria, the PFC is clearly late-maturing
and execution of actions. cortex (Flechsig, 1920; Conel, 1939; Huttenlocher, 1990;
The PFC can be subdivided in three major regions: Huttenlocher and Dabholkar, 1997). In the monkey’s
orbital, medial, and lateral. The orbital and medial re- PFC, myelogenesis also seems to develop late (Gibson,
gions are involved in emotional behavior. The lateral 1991). However, the assumption that the synaptic struc-
region, which is maximally developed in the human, pro- ture of the PFC lags behind that of other neocortical
vides the cognitive support to the temporal organization areas has been challenged with morphometric data
of behavior, speech, and reasoning. This function of (Bourgeois et al., 1994). In any case, imaging studies
temporal organization is served by several subordinate indicate that, in the human, prefrontal areas do not attain
functions that are closely intertwined (e.g., temporal in- full maturity until adolescence (Chugani et al., 1987;
tegration, working memory, set). Whatever areal special- Paus et al., 1999; Sowell et al., 1999). This conclusion
ization can be discerned in the PFC is not so much is consistent with the behavioral evidence that these
attributable to the topographical distribution of those areas are critical for those higher cognitive functions
functions as to the nature of the cognitive information that develop late, such as propositional speech and
with which they operate. Much of the prevalent confu- reasoning.
sion in the PFC literature derives from two common The profuse variety of connections of the PFC is obvi-
errors. The first is to argue for one particular prefrontal
function while opposing or neglecting others that com-
plement it; the second is to localize any of them within
a discrete portion of PFC.
The functions of the PFC rely closely on its connec-
tions with a vast array of other cerebral structures. None
of its cognitive functions can be understood if taken
out of a broad connectionist context. Any hypothetical
modularity of the PFC is functionally meaningless if
taken out of wide-ranging networks that extend far be-
yond the confines of any given prefrontal area. This is
the reason why the discussion of the operations of the
PFC is here preceded by the placement of the PFC in a
cortical connectionist map of cognitive representations.
After reviewing the anatomy and connectivity of the
PFC, I discuss its highest and most general functions,
which are inferred mainly from neuropsychological stud-
ies. Then I proceed with a conceptual model of the
cognitive organization of the neocortex, which derives
from those studies as well as from our knowledge of
cortical connectivity. Next, I deal with the dynamics of
the PFC in cognitive operations and with current evi-
dence on the functional specificity of its areas. The re-
view concludes with recent insights from physiological
research on monkeys into the prefrontal mechanisms
Figure 1. Cytoarchitectonic Map of the Monkey’s Frontal Cortex
of temporal integration. Although the focus here is on
(A) Lateral view.
(B) Medial view.
the PFC of the primate, it is reasonable to assume that
(C) Inferior (orbital) view.
CC, corpus callosum; PS, principal sulcus. From Petrides and Pan-
dya (1994), slightly modified, with permission.* Correspondence: joaquinf@ucla.edu
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320
Figure 2. Cortex of the Human
Prefrontal areas are numbered according to
Brodmann’s cytoarchitectural map.
ously related to the variety of the information it inte- of the major prefrontal regions—medial, orbital, and lat-
eral—is connected with itself and with the other twogrates. For detailed accounts of PFC connections in the
primate, the reader may wish to consult other reviews (Jacobson and Trojanowski, 1977a, 1977b; Pandya and
Yeterian, 1985). Some of the corticocortical connectivity(Pandya and Yeterian, 1985; Fuster, 1997; Mesulam, 1998;
Barbas, 2000). Here, I will only consider some of the of the PFC is interhemispheric, and almost all of it is
reciprocal and topologically organized (Pandya and Yet-extrinsic prefrontal connections.
The PFC is connected with the brainstem, the thala- erian, 1985; Cavada and Goldman-Rakic, 1989a, 1989b).
In general, connections between association corticesmus, the basal ganglia, and the limbic system. Much of
that connectivity with subcortical structures is recipro- both originate and terminate in upper cortical layers,
especially II and III (Jones, 1981; Andersen et al., 1985).cal. Especially well organized topologically are the con-
nections between the PFC and the thalamus. The prefron- Those connections presumably constitute the structural
frame of cognitive networks (Fuster, 1995). As the mem-tal connections with the mediodorsal thalamic nucleus
have been used as a criterion for identifying the PFC in ory networks of posterior cortex acquire associations
with action, they extend into PFC to shape the networksa wide variety of species (Fuster, 1997).
The functional role of the afferent connections of the of executive memory.
PFC can be broadly inferred from the functions of the
contributing structures. In the aggregate, the afferent Neuropsychology of the PFC
What we know about the higher integrative functionsconnections from the brainstem, the diencephalon and
the limbic system convey to the PFC information about of the PFC is inferred mainly from neuropsychological
studies in the human. Because of large variations in thethe internal environment, the level of arousal, the drives
and motives of the animal, and the visceral concomitants location, extent, and clinical manifestations of prefrontal
damage, that knowledge is the distillate of a vast litera-of emotion. Especially relevant for the behavioral integ-
rative functions of the PFC are its afferent connections ture. In essence, three distinct clusters of symptoms
can be observed after lesions of the three major regionsfrom the amygdala and the hypothalamus. The amygdala
projects to the ventral and medial aspects of the PFC of the PFC: orbital or inferior, medial/cingulate, and lat-
eral (Figure 2). Although many reported cases are mixed(Porrino et al., 1981; Ray and Price, 1993), and so does
the hypothalamus (Kievit and Kuypers, 1975; Jacobson in terms of cortex affected and clinical picture, the three
prefrontal “syndromes” provide insights into the majoret al., 1978). In all likelihood, these connections carry to
the frontal lobe information not only about internal states and most general functions of those regions.
Ever since Harlow (1848) described the famous casebut about the motivational significance of sensory stim-
uli. These connections probably play a major role in the of Phineas Gage, it has been known that lesions of
orbital PFC often induce dramatic changes of personal-representation and enactmentof emotional behavior(Le
Doux, 1993). The connections of the PFC with the hippo- ity (Damasio et al., 1994; Fuster, 1997). Subjects with such
lesions are impulsive and disinhibitedin a host of instinc-campus are also of major behavioral relevance. All pre-
frontal regions receive projections from the hippocam- tual behaviors. They are irritable and contentious, with
a characteristic tendency to coarse humor and disre-pus, either directly or indirectly (Rosene and Van Hoesen,
1977; Amaral, 1987; Barbas and Blatt, 1995). gard for social and moral principles. Their impulsiveness
frequently leads them to reckless high-risk behavior andThe PFC is connected with other cortices of associa-
tion, but not with primary sensory or motor cortices. Each conflicts with the law. In addition, orbitofrontal patients
Review
321
almost uniformly exhibit a severe disorder of attention. Onthe basis of a large body of anatomical, electrophysi-
ological, and neuropsychological evidence reviewedThis disorder is characterized by the failure to withstand
interference from distraction. Monkeys with orbitofron- elsewhere (Fuster, 1995), it is reasonable to treat the
cortex behind the Rolandic fissure as the substrate fortal damage show similar difficulties as do people with
comparable damage in the control of instinctual im- perceptual memory, and the frontal cortex for executive
memory (Figure 3). According to this view, neuronal net-pulses and internal or external distraction. The orbito-
frontal cortex exerts its functions of inhibitory control works of perceptual memory are formed in postrolandic
cortex and organized hierarchically over a base layervia its efferents to the hypothalamus, the basal ganglia,
and other neocortical areas, some in the PFC itself. of primary sensory cortices (phyletic sensory memory).
Progressively higher areas accommodate progressivelyThe medial region of the PFC, which includes the most
anterior portion of the cingulate gyrus, also appears more general categories of memory, including episodic
and semantic memory—which together constitute de-involved in general motility, attention, and emotion. Le-
sions of this region commonly lead to loss of spontaneity clarative memory. That upward expansion of perceptual
memory networks occurs along well-identified paths ofand difficulty in the initiation of movements and speech
(Verfaellie and Heilman, 1987; Cummings, 1993). Large corticocortical connection. Although the general cate-
gories of both memory and knowledge are hierarchicallyand bilateral lesions lead to akinetic mutism. Patients
with medial/cingulate lesions are commonly apathetic, organized, individual items of memory or knowledge are
to some degree heterarchical. Autobiographical mem-disinterested in the environment, and unable to concen-
trate their attention on behavioral or cognitive tasks. ory contains both semantic and sensory components
intermixed. Thus, the memory of an episode in one’sConversely, the neuroimaging of normal subjects by
positron emission tomography (PET) or functional mag- life is probably represented by a cortical network that
spans several levels of the perceptual hierarchy.netic resonance (fMRI) shows marked activations of the
anterior cingulate in tasks that demand sustained effort The counterpart of the perceptual memory hierarchy
in posterior cortex is an executive memory hierarchy inand concentrated attention (Posner et al., 1988; Raichle,
1994). Such evidence led to the formulation of an “ante- frontal cortex. Motor networks grow toward cortex of
association (PFC) on a base of primary motor cortexrior attentional system” (Posner and Petersen, 1990), of
which the anterior cingulate region would be an essential (phyletic motor memory). At the lower level of that hierar-
chy, movements are defined mainly by the action ofpart (further discussion below).
Lesions of the lateral region induce the most charac- muscles or muscle groups. At higher levels, in premotor
cortex, executive networks represent acts and pro-teristic cognitive deficits from frontal lobe injury. In hu-
mans with large lateral prefrontal damage, the most grams of movement defined by goal and trajectory. Net-
works in some premotor areas represent elementarycommon disorder is the inability to formulate and to
carry out plans and sequences of actions. Luria (1966) linguistic structures (notably “Broca’s area,” area 45).
From the neuropsychological research briefly reviewedwas the first to investigate and describe this disorder
in a large number of patients. The deficit in planning, in the previous section, the lateral PFC appears to harbor
which extends to the representation and construction networks representing schemas, plans, and concepts
of sequences of spoken and written language (Luria of action. In sum, the neuroanatomy and neuropsychol-
1970), is now widely recognized as a constant manifes- ogy of the frontal lobe strongly suggest the upward
tation of large lateral PFC damage. It has two major hierarchical layering of executive memory, from the in-
aspects: one is the difficulty to consciously represent nate representation of elementary movement in motor
sequences of speech or behavior, especially if they are cortex to the representation of sequential action in the
novel or complex; the other is the difficulty to initiate PFC. That upward layering appears to take place in
them and to execute them in orderly manner. These several interrelated domains of action (e.g., skeletal, lin-
difficulties constitute what has been termed the dys- guistic), each containing executive representations of
executive syndrome (Baddeley, 1986), which is usually varying degrees of specificity and abstraction. As in
accompanied by a severe attention disorder that Shal- posterior cortex, however, the organization of represen-
lice (1988) characterizes as a loss of “supervisory atten- tations in frontal cortex does not appear strictly hierar-
tional control.” In sum, from the neuropsychological evi- chical, at least inasmuch as hierarchical representation
dence, it can be concluded that the lateral PFC plays a implies serial processing from the top down. In the exe-
crucial role in the organization and execution of behav- cution of complex actions, the activations of prefrontal,
ior, speech, and reasoning. premotor, and motor networks do not always follow a
strict temporal sequence (Kalaska et al., 1998). Even at
the lowest cortical level (motor cortex), actions seem toThe PFC in the Cortical Cognitive Map
The cortex of the human appears divided by the Rolan- be represented, to a degree, in terms of direction of
movement (Georgopoulos et al., 1982). Thus, it is rea-dic fissure into two major parts, each dedicated to a
separate broad category of functions: the cortex of the sonable to suppose that executive networks, like per-
ceptual networks, are to some degree heterarchical.occipital, temporal, and parietal lobes, dedicated to
“sensory” functions; and the cortex of the frontal lobe, Imaging studies show that lateral prefrontal and pre-
motor areas are activated at the beginning of the learn-dedicated to “motor” functions. This dichotomy of corti-
ces seems to represent the evolutionary expansion into ing of a motor sequence; with practice and repetition,
however, that activation subsides, while that of subcorti-the telencephalon of the dichotomy of structures that
spans the entire length of the nerve axis from the spinal cal structures, notably the basal ganglia, increases (Graf-
ton et al., 1992; Jenkins et al., 1994; Iacoboni et al., 1996;cord upwards: a posterior sensory moiety and an ante-
rior motor one. Petersen et al., 1998). Thus, as sequences become over-
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322
Figure 3. General Organization of Cognitive
Representations in the Human Lateral Cortex
(Top) Schema of the two major hierarchies of
cortical memory.
(Bottom) Distribution of memory networks in-
dicated in broad outline by the same color
code as in the upper figure. RF, Rolandic
fissure.
learned and automatic, their representation seems to (Tulving et al., 1994; Kapur et al., 1995; Buckner et al.,
1995; Fletcher et al., 1998a, 1998b). In these studies,“migrate” to lower executive stages. The same imaging
studies also show that, even after repetition and auto- the experimental subject is typically asked to remember
sensory material for subsequent recall. There may bemation of their performance, sequences retain a degree
of representation in lateral PFC. Whereas the automatic the additional requirement of mentally organizing or cat-
egorizing the material. Functional imaging methods areaspects of motor behavior may have been relegated
to lower structures, the more abstract and schematic then utilized to determine levels of cortical activity—in
terms of blood flow—during performance of those cog-representations of sequential action, as well as the gen-
eral rules and contingencies of motor tasks, appear to nitive operations. A common procedure is to com-
pare—by subtraction—the activity of a given area underremain represented in prefrontal networks.
The theoretical scheme of memory representations one condition with the activity of the same area under
another. Two relatively consistent observations havejust outlined may be considered a static cognitive map. It
represents long-term memory after consolidation. Also, been made: (1) encoding new memory activates the left
more than the right PFC; (2) conversely, retrieving storedhowever, it is a changing and dynamic map, because the
cortical networks of perceptual and executive memory memory activates the right more than the left PFC. These
asymmetric encoding/retrieval activations of PFC cooccurconstitute the anatomical substrate for all cognitive
functions (e.g., perception, attention, reasoning, lan- with activations of other cortical areas.
The greater left PFC activation in encoding may reflectguage). Cognitive functions activate those representa-
tional networks, which by their activation become opera- the greater demands of this operation on semantic (ver-
bal) memory (Gabrieli et al., 1998)—which is representedtional. One of the cognitive operations is the acquisition
of new memory, which cannot take place without the mainly in the left hemisphere. Probably because of it,
that activation is enhanced by semantically organizingprior or concomitant retrieval of old memory. New mem-
ories consist invariably of the update and expansion of the material encoded (Fletcher et al., 1998a). The right
PFC activation in retrieval, on the other hand, seemsold ones, which new experience activates by associative
recognition and recall. The same can be said for their attributable to the internal monitoring of retrieved mate-
rial with respect to a preestablished semantic organiza-hypothetical supporting networks.
tion (Fletcher et al., 1998b). In summary, it is not alto-
gether clear that the asymmetric activations of the twoThe PFC in the Cortical Dynamics of Cognition
Many neuroimaging studies dealwith the putative roleof prefrontal cortices in encoding and retrieval are attribut-
able to their differential involvement in these two cogni-the PFC in the formation and recall of long-term memory
Review
323
Figure 4. Two Forms of Temporal Sequenc-
ing of Actions
(Top) A routine and overlearned sequence of
acts (a
1
...a
n
) toward a goal. Each act leads
to the next in chain-like fashion. Contingen-
cies (two-way arrows) are present only be-
tween immediately successive acts.
(Bottom) A novel and complex sequence.
Acts are contingent across time on the plan,
on the goal, and on other acts. The lateral
PFC is essential for the mediation of cross-
temporal contingencies and thus for the orga-
nization of the sequence.
tive operations. The apparent functional dissociation of timing of an act in a novel and complex sequence are
critically contingent on the schema or plan of the action,right and left PFC may be a product of the subtractive
method if the material utilized to test the two operations on its goal, and on other acts, however distant in time,
that have preceded it or are expected to succeed itcarries a different semantic load. In any case, both the
encoding and the retrieval of imaging studies are typi- (Figure 4). Therefore, insofar as the lateral PFC is essen-
tial to the mediation of cross-temporal contingencies,cally performed in the context of a task that requires
the integration of sensory cues with cognitive actions it is essential to the temporal organization of behavioral
and linguistic actions.across time. Thus, in both encoding and retrieval tasks,
the executive memory networks of lateral PFC may be In conclusion, as has been deduced from human neu-
ropsychology and corroborated in the monkey, the high-activated inasmuch as the tasks consist of temporally
integrative acts based on internal or external contin- est-ranking function of the lateral PFC is the temporal
organization of behavior. Under it lies the subordinategencies.
Cortical networks also enter the dynamic state in the function of temporal integration. The latter is in turn
served by attention, working memory, and preparatoryprocessing of novel and complex behavior. Such behav-
ior requires the interaction of posterior and frontal mem- set, to be considered next. As we shall see, these three
cognitive functions are widely distributed in PFC, andory networks. This interaction takes place in both hemi-
spheres through the long reciprocal connections linking there is no empirical reason for attributing any one of
them to a given prefrontal area; they appear to workthe two major sectors of cognition (green arrows in Fig-
ure 3). Routine, automatic, or overlearned behavioral together in all the lateral areas of the PFC.
The organization of behavioral sequences requiressequences, however complex, do not engage the PFC
and may be entirely organized in subcortical structures that selective attention be directed to the sensory inputs
that guide them and the motor outputs that lead to their(basal ganglia, cerebellum, lateral thalamus, etc.), where
imaging studies suggest they may be stored (Grafton execution. This selective function operates at several
levels of both sensory and motor systems. In the cere-et al., 1992; Petersen et al., 1998). Such sequences are
performed in chain-like fashion, one act leading to the bral cortex, it appears essential for the rapid and efficient
processing of information in a complex system of over-next. In them, no contingencies need be mediated
across time. By contrast, sequences with cross-tempo- lapping and intersecting networks. Attention has two com-
plementary properties with corresponding neural mecha-ral contingencies, or with ambiguities and uncertainties
in their controlling stimuli or in their motor acts, do en- nisms: focusing and filtering. Their underlying excitatory
and inhibitory processes are still poorly understood. Bothgage the PFC. Such is the case with delay tasks (e.g.,
delayed-response and delayed matching), which are appear to be under prefrontal control inasmuch as they
serve the integration of behavioral or cognitive actions.typically impaired by prefrontal lesions. Even after they
have been thoroughly learned, the correct performance Humans with lesions of anterior cingulate cortex (area
24), the frontal eye fields (area 8) or the superior and medialof such tasks requires the functional integrity of the PFC.
This is because each of their trials contains at least one frontal gyri commonly exhibit some degree of spatial ne-
glect and difficulties directing attention to discrete loca-ambiguity that, to be resolved, demands the mediation
of a contingency across time (“if now this, then later tions in visual space. They have trouble attending to
novel stimuli in expected or unexpected locations, orthat; if earlier that, then now this”). These tasks integrate
events in the temporal domain, which is a critical func- shifting the focus of attention from one part of the visual
field to another. Because the affected prefrontal areas,tion, I argue, of the lateral PFC.
In novel and complex behavior and language, tempo- especially area 8, are connected with parietal areas that
are also involved in spatial attention, a fronto-parietalral integration is key to temporal order. The choice and
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324
“network” for spatial attention has been postulated
(Mesulam, 1981; Posner and Petersen, 1990). In support
of this view, imaging studies show that tasks demanding
high levels of spatial attention activate those same areas
of prefrontal and parietal cortex (Pardo et al., 1990; Cor-
betta et al., 1993; Nobre et al., 1997; Kastner et al., 1999).
Some studies also show, however, prefrontal activa-
tions in tasks that demand attention to nonspatially de-
fined stimuli (Vandenberghe et al., 1997; Duncan and
Owen, 2000). The anterior cingulate region, in particular,
is activated in a broad variety of attentional states and
tasks that do not require spatial attention. Perhaps the
close connections of this region with limbic structures
account for its activation in situations that demand con-
centrated effort and close attention to detail (Pardo et
al., 1990; Posner and Petersen, 1990; Taylor et al., 1994).
Human and animal neuropsychology (Fuster, 1997) indi-
cates that the orbital PFC plays a major role in the exclu-
sionary aspect of attention, inhibiting or filtering out cogni-
tive information that is extraneous to the task at hand.
In general, therefore, the involvement of the PFC in
attention, and thus in selective information processing,
is inseparable from its role in organizing goal-directed
actions. The anterior cingulate seems involved in the
motivation to perform them, the orbitofrontal cortex in
Figure 5. Frontal Activations under Five Cognitive Demands
the suppression of distractions that interfere with them,
Colored squares mark the estimated loci of peak activation of frontal
and the lateral cortex in the mediation of their cross-
cortex during performance of cognitive tasks that test the effect
temporal contingencies. All three aspects of attention
of response conflict (green), novelty (pink), working-memory load
(yellow), working-memory delay (red), and perceptual difficulty
are supported by the PFC. This is most apparent in
(blue). The estimates of peak location result from metaanalysis of
spatial tasks, where temporal integration depends on
several neuroimaging studies. Note that assorted tasks and de-
gaze control and thus on the frontal eye fields of areas
mands activate three prefrontal regions bilaterally. From Duncan
6 and 8. In any event, attention, goal-directedness, and
and Owen (2000), slightly modified, with permission.
temporal integration are common elements of most all
the task paradigms utilized to explore the PFC by means
of functional imaging. Not surprisingly, therefore, those delay periods, that is, periods when short-term memory
paradigms activate several prefrontal areas in common was required, than during intertrial (baseline) periods.
(Figure 5). Temporal integration is present in practically That kind of firing activity related to spatial memory,
all of those paradigms (though the subject’s need to which persisted through delays of tens of seconds (up
mentally integrate the experimenter’s instructions with to 2 or 3 min), had four important properties: (1) it was
subsequent performance is neglected in most studies). absent after stimuli that did not call for prospective ac-
Thus, the presumed tests of attention utilized in imaging tion; (2) it was absent in the mere expectation of reward;
studies are essentially tests of temporal integration, and (3) it was correlated with the accuracy of the animal’s
it appears that for this reason they activate lateral pre- performance (i.e., efficiency of short-term memory); and
frontal areas. After all, both working memory and prepa- (4) it could be diminished or aborted by distracting stim-
ratory set, the two basic cognitive supports of temporal uli occurring in the delay period (e.g., taped playback
integration in the lateral PFC, essentially consist of at- of monkey voices). These properties of their firing, espe-
tention directed to internal representations. In any case, cially during long delays (10 s), strongly implicated
such related psychological functions as attentional se- those cells in the retention of the memorandum. Argua-
lectivity, resolution of ambiguities, and suppression of bly, memory cells opened systems neuroscience to the
distractions are essentially necessary for temporal inte- study of mental representation.
gration and, therefore, can be considered essential parts Spatial memory cells such as those just described
of its process. They depend, most likely, on the selective were subsequently observed in the PFC by many investi-
activation of posterior cortical areas under prefrontal gators (e.g., Niki, 1974; Niki and Watanabe, 1976; Joseph
control (Desimone and Duncan, 1995; Fuster, 1995). and Barone, 1987; Quintana et al., 1988). Goldman-Rakic
and her colleagues (Funahashi et al., 1989), in a delayed-
response task with brief delays and eye movement asMemory and Set, for the Two Sides of Time
Working memory is the first temporal integrative func- the behavioral indicator, demonstrated memory cells for
discrete light-spot positions in the four quadrants of thetion of the PFC to have beensubstantiated electrophysi-
ologically. Cells in the PFC of the monkey were found two-dimensional visual field.
In delayed-response tests, memory cells of the kindto fire persistently at high rates while the animal retained
an item of visual information in short term memory (Fuster just described ostensively retain the position of the vi-
sual cue or memorandum that the animal must retainand Alexander, 1971; Fuster, 1973); in delayed-response
tasks, such “memory cells” fired more frequently during for subsequent motor response. By using various other
Review
325
types of delay tasks, especially delayed matching to sam- gradually toward baseline level (Figure 6); these sen-
sory-coupled units behaved like conventional working-ple, memory cells have also been found—in lateral PFC-
that are attuned to visual-nonspatial (Fuster et al., 1982; memory cells for color. Intermixed with them in the same
area, direction-coupled cells were found, which showedMiller et al., 1996), auditory (Bodner et al., 1996), or tactile
(Romo et al., 1999) memoranda. In any case, the involve- a temporally reciprocal behavior. Their discharge in-
creased in the course of the delay, and they fired atment of prefrontal cells in working memory appears
strictly related to the need to retain information for an different rates at the time of the motor choice, depending
on whether it was the right or the left. Further, the slopeimpending action that is in some way dependent on that
information. Prefrontal cells “remember for action.” of accelerating discharge in the delay period was greater
when the monkey could predict side with certaintyFunctional neuroimaging reveals PFC activations in a
variety of working memory tasks. Such activations pre- (100%) than when he could not.
Thus, neuropsychological, electrical, and imaging datasumably reflect the excitation of large assemblies of
memory cells. Thus, lateral activation has been demon- point to the coexistence in lateral PFC of two neural
substrates of active representation, one for the recentstrated when the memorandum is visuospatial (Jonides
et al., 1993; McCarthy et al., 1994), visual-nonspatial (Co- past and the other for the anticipated future. There is
no evidence of anatomical segregation of those twohen et al., 1994; Swartz et al., 1995), or verbal (Grasby et
al., 1993; Petrides et al., 1993b; Smith et al., 1996). None- substrates. Quite the contrary, there is microelectrode
evidence that the two overlap to a considerable extent.theless, current imaging methods lackthe sufficient spa-
tial and temporal resolution to detect topographicdiffer- Some prefrontal cells seem to “look” to the past and
others, nearby, to the future. It is reasonable to assumeences related to specific memoranda or the time course
of cellular excitability in memory periods. that the two populations of cells are part of the same
cortical network of long-term memory that representsIt has long been known that the PFC, especially its
lateral region, is involved in the expectation of, and prep- the associated sensory and motor components of a
given task or behavioral sequence. That network is pre-aration for, anticipated events. This prospective involve-
ment of the PFC is most probably related to the proven sumably activated for the task, its neurons to bridge tem-
poral contingencies and to guide-through motor sys-deficit of frontal patients in planning. Electrophysiologi-
cally, the anticipatory aspects of prefrontal integration tems-the behavior to its goal. Thus, the two temporal
perspectives of a behavioral sequence would be in-are at the root of the surface-negative field potentials—
notably the “expectancy wave”—recorded over frontal tegrated by the sustained activation of the network’s
components. Working memory would consistof theacti-regions in the time between a stimulus and a response
contingent on it (Kutas and Donchin, 1980; Brunia et vation of the perceptual components. A temporally sym-
metric and complementary function of preparatory set,al., 1985; Singh and Knight, 1990). Another electrical
manifestation of anticipation in the PFC is the presence or “motor attention,” would activate the network’s motor
components and thus prime executive systems for theof cells that, during the delay of a delay task, fire at high
levels in the apparent expectation of the motor response anticipated action.
or another stimulus related to it (Niki and Watanabe,
1979; Fuster et al., 1982; Boch and Goldberg, 1989; Areal Specificity in PFC: The “What,” the “Where,”
Sawaguchi et al., 1989; Rainer et al., 1999). That kind and the “When”
of preparatory activity has also been inferred from the Beginning in the 1930’s (Jacobsen, 1931), a long series
results of neuroimaging during planning (Partiot et al., of lesion studies on the monkey showed that the lateral
1995; Baker et al., 1996). In sum, considerable evidence PFC was essential for delay tasks. In these tasks, the
from several methodologies supports a prospective role animal must memorize items of information through pe-
of the PFC, in addition to its retrospective role of working riods of forced delay. From deficits induced in those
memory. Ingvar (1985) dubbed that prospective role the tasks by ablating lateral PFC, its role was deduced in
“memory of the future.” the kind of short-term memory which is now convention-
Quintana and Fuster (1999) found two types of units, ally called working memory—applying to the monkey a
working-memory cells and preparatory-set cells, topo- term with somewhat different meaning in human cogni-
graphically intermingled in the dorsolateral PFC of mon- tion (Baddeley 1986). Since the tasks (e.g., delayed-
keys performing a delay task with variable probabilities response) commonly required memorization of a spa-
of contingency between color and direction of manual tially defined visual stimulus, some researchers further
choice. A trial began with the brief presentation of a assumed that the lateral PFC cortex was the storage site
color, which the animal had to retain for pairing it with for memory of spatial location. However, the reversible
a second stimulus some 12 s later. Depending on the lesion of this cortex—by local cooling—induced a tem-
combination of those two stimuli, the animal had to porary deficit in delayed color matching (a nonspatial
choose a right or a left location. After the animal had memory task) that was of the same magnitude as the
been extensively trained to perform the task, each color deficit in delayed response (Bauer and Fuster, 1976).
carried a given probability that the second stimulus Furthermore, microelectrode recording in monkeys per-
would demand a response to one side or to the other. forming both tasks revealed spatial and nonspatial
Thus, some colors predicted response location with memory cells throughout the lateral PFC (Fuster et al.,
100% probability and others with 75%. In the cortex 1982).
above the principal sulcus (areas 9 and 46), some cells Nonetheless, some investigators used an anatomical
discriminated the colors (by differences in firing fre- rationale in support of a functional dissociation between
dorsal and ventral areas of the lateral PFC in visualquency), and their activity during the delay descended
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326
Figure 6. Working-Memory and Preparatory-
Set Cells in PFC
The monkey’s task requires integration of two
sequential stimuli—12 s apart-for hand re-
sponse to left or right. The first stimulus, a
brief color display, predicts the probability of
response direction (after the second stimu-
lus): 100% if yellow or blue, 75% if red or
green. Some cells (left graph) react selec-
tively to the color, and their discharge de-
scends thereafter in the course of the delay.
During that same period, other cells in the
vicinity (right graph) accelerate their dis-
charge and react selectively to the side of
manual response. C, color cue; R, manual
response.
memory. The former areas receive the dorsal visual or the color and the movement (Sakagami and Tsutsui,
1999), of visual stimuli in memory tasks. Other neuronspathway, the “where” pathway from parietal cortex; the
ventral areas, on the other hand, receive the ventral integrate the associated features of visual objects that
define the perceptual category to which the objects be-visual pathway, the “what” pathway from inferotemporal
cortex (Ungerleider and Mishkin, 1982). Accordingly, two long (Freedman et al., 2001). Visuo-motor integration is
exemplified by cells that associate visual stimuli withvisual working memory functions were hypothesized for
dorsal and ventral prefrontal areas, the former specializ- behavioral responses (Watanabe, 1992; Bichot and
Schall, 1999; Scalaidhe et al., 1999; Asaad et al., 2000).ing in “location memory” and the latter in “object mem-
ory.” Wilson et al. (1993) provided some empirical sup- Such associations have been seen to develop in the
course of learning (Asaad et al., 1998; Rainer and Miller,port to this hypothesis with the observation, in ventral
cortex, of more cells attuned to nonspatial memory than 2000). The reward that motivates monkeys to perform
their tasks is yet another associated component of thoseto spatial memory. Prior studies—mentioned in the pre-
vious section—had shown spatial memory cells in dor- tasks and thus of integrative PFC networks. It has been
known for some time that prefrontal units increase theirsolateral cortex. Based on these observations, the “do-
main specificity” of spatial and nonspatial memory in firing in temporal correlation with the delivery of that
reward (Rosenkilde et al., 1981; Watanabe, 1996; Hiko-PFC was postulated (Goldman-Rakic et al., 2000). This
notion, however, has now been contradicted by a sub- saka and Watanabe, 2000). Such units are most common
in orbital PFC. Some differentiate rewards with remark-stantial number of studies, in the human as well as the
monkey. able specificity (Tremblay and Schultz, 1999).
A compelling example of temporal integration in theNeuroimaging in the human has failed to demonstrate
a clear specialization of separate prefrontal areas in PFC is given by cells that respond specifically, and in
correlated manner, to two temporally separate stimulispatial and nonspatial working memory (Courtney et al.,
1996; Owen et al., 1998; Ungerleider et al., 1998; Postle of different sensory modality that have been associated
by experience (Fuster et al., 2000). Monkeys wereand D’Esposito, 1999; Prabhakaran et al., 2000). It has,
however, substantiated the involvement of certain lat- trained for several months to perform the task in Figure
7. A trial began with a brief tone, high or low pitch, whicheral and inferior areas of the frontal lobe, including Bro-
ca’s, in the memorization of semantic material (Paulesu the animal had to remember for 10 s in order to choose
one of two colors. The high tone required choice of red;et al., 1993; Andreasen et al., 1995; Fiez et al., 1996;
Smith and Jonides, 1999). Neuroimaging also substanti- the low tone, green. In dorsolateral prefrontal cortex
(areas 8, 9, and 46), a large contingent of cells discrimi-ates the activation of large areas of lateral PFC in tempo-
ral integration, which is a uniform requirement of all nated the tones and the colors in behaviorally coherent
fashion. Thus, some cells preferred the high-tone overworking-memory tasks, as well as of many others (Dun-
can and Owen, 2000). the low-tone and, after the delay, the red over the green.
Others preferred the low tone and, later, its associatedThe fundamental integrative role of lateral prefrontal
areas, in contrast to their hypothetical “where-versus- color, green. The tone/color correlation disappeared or
became much diminished in trials ending with monkeywhat” specialization, has received considerable support
from microelectrode studies in the monkey. Many neu- error. Thus, the two types of cells seemed to belong to
executive networks that, for a behavioral goal, inte-rons in lateral PFC respond selectively to both the iden-
tity and the location (Rao et al., 1997; Rainer et al., 1998), grated sounds with colors across time.
Review
327
These views do not exclude new information from work-
ing memory. Indeed, new stimuli can be readily incorpo-
rated into an activated network of long-term memory
by processes of categorization, perceptual constancy,
and contextual association.
Cortical Mechanisms of Temporal Integration
The mechanisms of temporal integration and the role of
the PFC in them are still poorly understood, although
we know enough about them for some reasonable con-
jectures. Here are two critical questions to be resolved:
(1) How are the components of an executive cortical
network timely and selectively activated in the execution
of a goal-directed sequence of behavior? (2) How is a
cortical network maintained active in the process of
bridging temporally separate components of the se-
quence?
Humans with prefrontal damage, as already men-
tioned, have difficulties focusing and maintaining atten-
tion; these difficulties are accompanied by a diminution
of the potentials evoked by sensory stimuli in posterior
cortical areas (Knight 1984; Daffner et al., 2000). Thus, to
process perceptual information in the focus of attention,
those areas seem to require excitatory modulation from
the PFC. That kind of modulation would be essential for
the retrieval of context-dependent perceptual informa-
tion in posterior cortex. In turn, feedback from this cortex
would activate frontal executive networks. These as-
sumptions are supported by evidence that, in height-
ened visual search and attentive set-shifting, visual as
well as prefrontal cortical areas are activated (Kastner
et al., 1999; Konishi et al., 1999). Recent microelectrode
Figure 7. Cross-Temporal Integration of Sound and Color in Frontal
studies in monkeys with callosal severance point to the
Cortex
importance of the prefrontal modulation of inferotem-
(Top, left) Sequence of events in the behavioral task: (1) brief tone
poral cells for visual memory retrieval (Hasegawa et al.,
from overhead loudspeaker, (2) 10 s delay, (3) two colors simultane-
1998; Tomita et al., 1999).
ously in two buttons, (4) animal rewarded for choosing the color (c)
For the retrieval of an executive memory, inputs from
that matches the tone—see text. (Tone and color position change
posterior cortex and the internal environment activate
at random between trials.)
(Top, right) Diagram of monkey’s brain. Numbers indicate cytoarchi-
a network of neurons in the PFC. That network repre-
tectonic areas; in blue, frontal region from which tone- and color-
sents in its connectional architecture a schema of se-
reactive cells were recorded.
quential action—e.g., a trial in a delay task. With the
(Below) Firing frequency histograms of two cells, one selective for
retrieval of the memory of that schema, the network
high-tone and red (top), and the other for low-tone and green (bot-
becomes operational. From then on, the focus and tim-
tom). Histograms are from 1 s period beginning with tone onset
ing of sensory and motor processing are presumably
(left), and from 1 s period immediately preceding choice of color
(right).
1
marks 200 ms bin of maximal cell discrimination of tones,
controlled by selective serial activations of the compo-
and
4
, of colors. Note the correlation of preferential cell reactions
nents of that prefrontal network in cooperation with sub-
to tones and colors according to the task rule. From Fuster et al.
cortical structures (e.g., thalamus, basal ganglia) and
(2000), modified.
with posterior associative cortices. Each prefrontal acti-
vation is subject to feedback from internal and external
environment. Hence, the so-called monitoring functionNeurons such as those just described uphold an
emerging principle of prefrontal function already ad- of the PFC, which has been postulated on the basis of
lesion experiments (Petrides, 1991) and supported byvanced in the previous section. The networks that in
the course of behavior integrate information in a timely neuroimaging (Petrides et al., 1993a; Fletcher et al.,
1998b).manner are essentially the same networks that represent
that information in long-term executive memory. Conse- When there is a temporal discontinuity in the execu-
tion of a behavioral sequence, prefrontal mechanismsquently, executive working memory seems to be essen-
tially based on the ad hoc activation of executive net- are necessary and come into play for integrating infor-
mation across the discontinuity. That some of that inte-works of long-term memory (Fuster, 1995). Accordingly,
those networks associate, and thus encode, all the sen- gration takes place locally in discrete PFC areas—by
joint operation of working memory and preparatorysory and motor components of a task. Higher prefrontal
networks represent the temporal contingencies be- set—is suggested by the evidence of neighboring PFC
cells that are attuned either to the memory of a sensorytween those components, the “rules” of performance
of the task (Passingham, 1993; White and Wise, 1999). stimulus or to the prospective response to it (Figure 6).
Neuron
328
Figure 8. Working Memory Discharge At-
tuned to Sound/Color Association in Long-
Term Memory
Average frequency histograms of three cells
that, in the task of Figure 7, prefer the low
tone. Their discharge during the delay is
higher in the time between low-tone and
green choice than between high-tone and red
choice. At color presentation, the second and
third cells from top show clear preference for
the color matching the low tone, green. From
Fuster et al. (2000), modified.
Even more suggestive of local temporal integration is of working memory for color, and (2) a decrease in the
ability of some inferotemporal cells to discriminate col-the stimulus-selective discharge of some PFC cells in
the time between two associated stimuli of different ors in the memory period (delay). Both effects occurred
in the absence of perceptual or motor deficit. Similarmodality, a sound and a color, that the monkey must
integrate across that time (Fuster et al., 2000). Not only effects were observed by inferotemporal cooling on be-
havior and on PFC cells. These findings suggest thatdo those cells respond similarly to the two stimuli, but
their discharge during the interposed delay is also at- the cooling of either cortex, prefrontal or inferotemporal,
interrupts loops of reverberating activity between themtuned to both (Figure 8). This implies that the first stimu-
lus (sound) activates the network that associates it with that are necessary for visual working memory. Also by
cooling, cellular interactions have been exposed be-the second (color), and the network stays activated
through the time between the two. Thus, the cellular tween PFC and parietal cortex (Quintana et al., 1989;
Chafee and Goldman-Rakic, 2000).activation in short-term memory is not so much related
to one stimulus or to the other as to the association The reverberation through recurrent neuronal circuits
suggested by cooling experiments is a likely mechanismbetween the two, which is in long-term memory.
Temporal integration also seems to result, however, of working memory, and thus of temporal integration.
Such a mechanism was postulated by Hebb (1949) forfrom the cooperation of the PFC with other cortical ar-
eas. Working memory is as widely distributed as the short-term memory in local cortical circuitry. In a fully
recurrent computer network model trained to performlong-term memory that supports it. Cells in posterior
cortex of sensory association show working-memory sample-and-hold operations as delay tasks require,
Zipser et al. (1993) observed “cells” (hidden units) thatproperties for stimuli of the specific modality they pro-
cess. Thus, there are memory cells for vision in infero- behaved much like real working-memory cells of PFC
or inferotemporal cortex during delay tasks. Therefore,temporal cortex (Fuster and Jervey, 1982; Miller et al.,
1993), for touch in somatosensory cortex (Koch and working memory is emerging as a mechanism of tempo-
ral integration essentially based on the concurrent andFuster, 1989; Zhou and Fuster, 1996), and for location
in posterior parietal cortex (Andersen et al., 1990). There recurrent activation of cell assemblies in long-term
memory networks of frontal and posterior cortex. Duringis also mounting evidence that, in the maintenance of
working memory, the PFC interacts with those cortices. the delay period of delay tasks, a different recurrent
loop of cortical connectivity would be active dependingBy the cooling of lateral PFC in monkeys performing a
color delayed matching task (Fuster et al., 1985), two on the modality of the memorandum (Figure 9).
Finally, temporal integration and its ancillary prefron-correlated effects were obtained: (1) a behavioral deficit
Review
329
Figure 9. Cortical Interactions in Working
Memory
Depending on the modality of the memoran-
dum, the PFC interacts through reciprocal
and reentrant connections with different ar-
eas of posterior association cortex: inferior
temporal if visual, superior temporal if audi-
tory, anterior parietal if tactile, and posterior
parietal if spatial.
tal functions (attention, working memory, set, monitor- quences are integrated in lower levels of the nervous
system and of the perception-action cycle. New anding) operate within the broader dynamics of the percep-
tion-action cycle, which is founded on basic biological complex sequences, however, are integrated at the apex
of the perception-action cycle under prefrontal control.principles (Fuster, 1997). All adaptive behavior rests on
the circular processing of information between the or-
ganism and its environment. Sensory information leads Conclusions
to motor actions, which produce changes in the environ- The PFC is one of the last territories of the neocortex
ment, which lead to new sensory inputs, which lead to to develop, in evolution as well as ontogeny. In general
new actions, and so on. Figure 10 illustrates schemati- terms, the entire PFC is dedicated to the memory, plan-
cally the dynamics of cortical connectivity in the percep- ning, or execution of actions. The orbital and medial
tion-action cycle. Automatic, reflex and overlearned se- PFC, which is well connected with the brainstem and
limbic formations, plays a major role in emotional behav-
ior and the control of basic drives. The lateral PFC is
the neural substrate for the cognitive functions that sup-
port the temporal organization of behavior. That sub-
strate appears to consist of neuronal networks rep-
resenting by associative connections the long-term
memory of behavioral sequences and the plans or sche-
mas of action (executive memory). To conduct its execu-
tive functions, the lateral PFC interacts with subcortical
structures and with other parts of association cortex.
A cardinal function of the lateral PFC is the temporal
integration of information for the attainment of prospec-
tive behavioral goals. It is served by two complementary
and temporally symmetric functions: working memory
and preparatory set. Both work together toward those
goals in every sphere of action, including speech. Their
role is to mediate contingencies across time between
events represented in a network of executive memory.
Evidence from several methodologies indicates that
working memory essentially consists of the sustained
activation of one such network. Further, there is evi-
dence indicating that the activation is maintained
through recurrent circuits between cells of PFC and cells
of posterior cortex. All the integrative functions of the
PFC operate within the broad biological context of the
Figure 10. Cortical Dynamics in the Perception-Action Cycle
sensory-motor cycle of interactions that links the organ-
Unlabeled rectangles stand for intermediate areas or subareas of
ism with its environment at all levels of the nervous
labeled cortex. All arrows represent connective pathways identified
system. The PFC closes that cycle at the summit, inte-
in the monkey. The picture of the human brain emphasizes reciprocal
connectivity between posterior and frontal cortex.
grating in the time domain cognitive representations of
Neuron
330
Cavada, C., and Goldman-Rakic, P.S. (1989a). Posterior parietal
perception and of action as required in goal-directed
cortex in rhesus monkey: I. Parcellation of areas based on distinctive
behavior.
limbic and sensory corticocortical connections. J. Comp. Neurol.
287, 393–421.
Acknowledgments
Cavada, C., and Goldman-Rakic, P.S. (1989b). Posterior parietal
cortex in rhesus monkey: II. Evidence for segregated corticocortical
I wish to thank Eric Kandel, James McGaugh, Earl Miller, and
networks linking sensory and limbic areas with the frontal lobe. J.
Thomas O’Dell for their comments on the manuscript.
Comp. Neurol. 287, 422–445.
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... First, beyond the role of the DLPFC in higher order executive functions, especially in the temporal organization of goal-oriented actions (Fuster, 2000(Fuster, , 2001Koechlin et al., 2003;Miller, 2000;Ott & Nieder, 2019), there is growing evidence of its top-down control over simple motor actions. Thus, Hasan et al. (2013) showed a selective modulation of M1 excitability (time-and muscle-specific) during movement preparation with origin in the DLPFC during instructed finger reaction movements. ...
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