Lateral frontal pole and relational processing: Activation patterns and connectivity profile

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The functional contribution of the lateral frontal cortex to behavior has been discussed with reference to several higher-order cognitive domains. In a separate line of research, recent studies have focused on the anatomical organization of this part of the brain. These different approaches are rarely combined. Here, we combine previous work using anatomical connectivity that identified a lateral subdivision of the human frontal pole and work that suggested a general role for rostrolateral prefrontal cortex in processing higher-order relations, irrespective of the type of information. We asked healthy human volunteers to judge the relationship between pairs of stimuli, a task previously suggested to engage the lateral frontal pole. Presenting both shape and face stimuli, we indeed observed overlapping activation of the lateral prefrontal cortex when subjects judged relations between pairs. Using resting state functional MRI, we confirmed that the activated region's whole-brain connectivity most strongly resembles that of the lateral frontal pole. Using diffusion MRI, we showed that the pattern of connections of this region with the main association fibers again is most similar to that of the lateral frontal pole, consistent with the observation that it is this anatomical region that is involved in relational processing.

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