See Burgess (doi:10.1093/brain/aww092) for a scientific commentary on this article.
Analogical reasoning is at the core of the generalization and abstraction processes that enable concept formation and creativity. The impact of neurological diseases on analogical reasoning is poorly known, despite its importance in everyday life and in society. Neuroimaging studies of healthy subjects and the few studies that have been performed on patients have highlighted the importance of the prefrontal cortex in analogical reasoning. However, the critical cerebral bases for analogical reasoning deficits remain elusive. In the current study, we examined analogical reasoning abilities in 27 patients with focal damage in the frontal lobes and performed voxel-based lesion-behaviour mapping and tractography analyses to investigate the structures critical for analogical reasoning. The findings revealed that damage to the left rostrolateral prefrontal region (or some of its long-range connections) specifically impaired the ability to reason by analogies. A short version of the analogy task predicted the existence of a left rostrolateral prefrontal lesion with good accuracy. Experimental manipulations of the analogy tasks suggested that this region plays a role in relational matching or integration. The current lesion approach demonstrated that the left rostrolateral prefrontal region is a critical node in the analogy network. Our results also suggested that analogy tasks should be translated to clinical practice to refine the neuropsychological assessment of patients with frontal lobe lesions.